BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – At Akron Children’s Hospital in Boardman, newborns with serious health problems or those who are premature need extra care. A special program to help the babies develop also gives volunteers the opportunity to cuddle with them.
Marijo Lendak is a volunteer with the hospital’s Cuddler Program.
“Every time I hold one of these little people, I feel like I remember when my children were small and how it helped. We always cuddled,” she said.
One of the babies she was able to hold is 18-day-old Grant Elford, who made his debut early.
“He was born at 34 weeks, so it was a little bit of a surprise that he came early,” his mother, Katie Elford, said. “We weren’t expecting to be in the NICU, but it happened.”
She and her husband are able to be with Grant every day, but they realize that’s not the case for every family.
The Cuddler Program started 15 years ago for babies who need to be held for comfort or if their parents aren’t able to be there.
“It’s an amazing program just to give parents a little break if they need to grab something to eat or take a little rest,” Elford said.
When cuddlers come to the hospital, they are there for an hour and their only job is to hold babies.
“We don’t feed, we don’t change, we don’t bathe. It’s just that human contact and we try to keep them snuggled,” Lendak said.
When she has a little one in her arms, Lendak says nothing else matters. If the baby is sleeping, she holds it and lets the baby sleep. If it is awake, she talks to the baby.
“To have cuddlers be able to come hold these babies every day or whenever needed is really important,” said Dr. Linda Cooper, a neonatologist.
Baby Grant is home now, where his mom and dad will continue giving him cuddles.
Akron Children’s Hospital has applications on its website for adults and teens interested in volunteering.