Sherry and Dianne Cole love children.
“I had seen an article about volunteering as a cuddler in the paper and mentioned it to Sherry,” said Dianne. “At that time, he wasn’t sure if it would be something he wanted to do because he thought he would become too attached to the babies, and it would be too hard to be around babies who were sick. Later, another article appeared about the hospital needing volunteers, and I convinced him to give it a try.”
Sherry says it was “love at first sight.” He says it is difficult to see newborns with health issues, some who are addicted drugs and going through withdrawal. “You definitely get attached,” he says, “but when the baby who you have comforted over a period of time is now well enough to go home to be with the rest of its family, you can rejoice realizing you have helped, in some small way, in giving that child a better start to the rest of its life.”
The Coles have been cuddlers for Hamilton Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) since July of 2019. Cuddlers are volunteers who provide therapeutic talk and touch to newborns when parents are unable to be at the bedside.
“We call Sherry and Dianne ‘Grandpa and Grandma.’ They are the most precious souls,” says Nikki Pasley, clinical manager for the NICU.
The couple goes to Hamilton’s NICU three days a week to hold babies, often changing their schedules around to make life easier on the nurses.
“They came to me not long ago and asked if they could start coming in around lunchtime so they could hold babies and allow the nurses to eat without being interrupted,” says Pasley.
If babies are asleep, the Coles find other chores to complete, such as stocking cribs and cabinets or keeping the individual babies’ area clean. They also recently started training all of the new cuddlers.
“But the most important thing we do is cuddle the babies.” Says Dianne. “We feed them, rock them, talk to them and try to comfort and soothe them when they cry.”
Sherry says they tell the babies stories about what they may have to look forward to for the rest of their lives.
“I think when we first volunteered, we thought we would rock a few babies, try to comfort them when they cried, maybe change a diaper, or give them a bottle when they were hungry,” says Dianne. “We did not realize how much attention they actually need.”
Some of the babies have parents who visit their child as often as they can. Others seldom or never have a visit from their parents.
“If it weren’t for cuddlers, some of the babies would have very little person-to-person contact,” Sherry says. “Sometimes we may need to hold a baby from the time we enter the NICU until we leave. They do not understand what is happening to them, they can’t tell you where they are hurting. They only know they are, and the only solution they have is to cry.”
The Coles recognized there was a need for babies who were going into foster care or under-privileged homes to have some essential items a newborn baby would need. They contacted a group at their church, The Levi Circle, who volunteered to provide diaper bags with items such as clothes, sleepers, diapers, bottles, wipes, baby wash and much more.
“They keep Women’s Services stocked with these bags, so we can hand one out whenever we feel there is a need,” says Pasley. “Words really cannot convey how special they are.”
The Coles say that the nurses in the NICU are the true heroes. “They are the most dedicated, caring and compassionate people we have ever had the pleasure of working with,” says Dianne. “They never lose their soft touch or sweet voice while they are caring for these little angels.”
According to the Coles, being a part of Hamilton’s Cuddler program has had its rewards for them also.
“My blood pressure has dropped 10 points since February when we were able to come back to the NICU,” says Sherry. “This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. You may be worn out at the end of your shift, but you can’t wait to come back again.”
Dianne adds, “Just knowing you may have made a small difference in a very small life is the best feeling in the world.”