Volunteers cuddle sick babies when parents can't - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Volunteers cuddle sick babies when parents can't

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Cradled in comforting arms, babies get the loving touch they want and need.

And when he's snuggled close, you don't see the tubes and wires running from Hunter Pelligrin's little body.

The 7-month old is a patient in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Ochsner Baptist.

"He has spina bifida," says his mother, Julie Pelligrin. "There's a section of his back that was just open and the bone didn't form around his spinal column so the nerves and all that were literally just hanging out his back."

Julie and her husband, Eric Pelligrin, spent the first six weeks of Hunter's life virtually living at the hospital. But life at home had to go on.

So a stranger stepped in to help.

"This my baby fix," says Sue Ginsberg, a volunteer baby cuddler at Ochsner Baptist.

The hospital's doctors and nurses provide the medical attention their tiny patients need but often don't have time to give them the human contact they want.

"You can watch when they've been picked up and start being held and the heart rate comes down a little bit, the blood pressure comes down a little bit, the respiratory rate comes down a little bit," says Dr. Harley Ginsberg, Medical Director of the NICU.

But parents can't comfort and cuddle 24 hours a day.

Denae Andrus lives in Lafayette.

"The first time he was here, I was able to come every two days because my daughter was still in the hospital but now she's home," she says. "Since he's been back, I've only been twice because she's not allowed to travel and it's almost impossible to get here."

Dawson Andrus and his twin sister entered the world 13 weeks early.

"He weighed a pound and ten ounces and they were immediately rushed to the NICU and I didn't meet them until the next day," she says.

When Andrus can't be at the hospital, there are arms ready to hold her son.

"There's no special technique needed," says volunteer Bill Ferry. "You just need to rock them and love them and that's about it."

Ferry has been cuddling babies for 21 years. He began volunteering after comforting his newborn nephew, who need heart valve surgery.

"I held him that first time I went to visit," says Ferry. "My wife claims that he went to sleep as soon as I started holding him."

Ferry remembers those first babies he held more than two decades ago.

"The first child I was attached to 21 years ago went home and I was sad," he says. "Then the next baby I was attached to didn't go home and so I said I would never be sad when a baby went home."

Ferry says he still gets attached to every child he cuddles.

Other volunteers chose not to.

"I don't even try to learn their names because I don't want to really know where they go after this, if it's good, bad or indifferent, they're lives," says Diana Livaudais, a volunteer. "I just rock them for the moment."

"I do the same thing, especially if they're very sick," says volunteer Charlotte Delle. "I kind of don't want to know what's going to happen so I just do what I can while they're here."

Not every child who comes through the NICU goes home. But going home is the goal for every baby.

Volunteer cuddlers play an important role. The rewards for holding babies are more than emotional, there are proven health benefits.

"We know that if they're not wasting calories on crying or being upset, then those calories go into growth, and that means growth of lungs, growth of all the other vital organs of the body and helps get them home as soon as possible," says Dr. Ginsberg.

Hunter still has growing to do, even though he tips the scales for his age.

"Normal babies at this age would probably be in six to nine month clothing and he's in like 12 to 18 month clothing because he's so big," says Julie Pelligrin. "But that's good because his nutrition is his first line of defense against all his ailments."

Now a healthy 5.3 pounds, Dawson Andrus gets to leave the hospital.

"I'm so happy, very happy," says Denae Andrus. "I waited a long time to take him home."

There will be more babies coming to the NICU for volunteers to hold, to cuddle when parents can't.

"We don't worry about spoiling at all," says Delle. "That'll be their problem when they take them home but right here we spoil them."

These babies need a little spoiling.

For more information on how to volunteer, click here.

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