HedrickHENDERSON, Ky. (12/19/17) — When Chris Hedrick retired two years ago, he had no idea he would end up volunteering to cuddle babies in Methodist Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and would feel like he had found his calling.

“Being here as a rocking chair grandpa is a real blessing,” he said.

“He’s known as ‘Papa’ in the NICU,” said Terri Nunn, BSN, RNC, OB/Labor-Delivery/Nursery/NICU Manager, who explained that the Rock-A-Bye Baby program was recently launched at Methodist Hospital to provide extra cuddling and touch to babies born prematurely or with medical issues who are in the NICU.

“Our NICU babies often spend the first weeks or even months of their lives here,” noted Nunn. “Their parents must often return to work and can’t be here around-the-clock to give them the nurturing they need, and studies have shown that babies do better when they are held and talked to —  babies grow in love.”

“Currently, one volunteer, Chris Hedrick, has been vetted and screened through Methodist Hospital Volunteer Services, and is serving as our NICU Papa,” she said.

Parents must give consent for their babies to be cuddled in their absence, but Nunn said most do and are happy their babies are getting an extra dose of love.

Hedrick, whose wife, Verna, works at Methodist Hospital in gastroenterology, was encouraged to become a volunteer by Sandy Blue, coordinator of Volunteer Services, and the new Rock-A-Bye Baby program seemed to be a perfect fit.

“The first day I rocked those babies was awesome,” he said. “To see God’s miracles close up and the way the nurses and doctors care for them was mind-blowing. I was hooked.”

Hedrick rocks and cuddles each baby, changing his gown and washing his hands in between each one. Thanks to his availability, whenever there are newborns in the NICU in need of cuddling, he can most likely be found in the rocking chair with a baby in his arms.

Cuddling programs like Methodist Hospital’s Rock-A-Bye Baby program are a growing trend at hospitals across the nation, hospital officials said.

“We are so happy to have our NICU Papa here,” Nunn said. “Studies have shown the importance of sensory stimulation and touch to the babies’ growth and development. Infants receiving sensory stimulation averaged 47 percent greater weight gain per day than the control group who were not receiving sensory stimulation and were discharged an average of six days earlier.”

Chris Hedrick, Methodist Hospital volunteer for the new Rock-A-Bye Baby program in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), is pictured with Emma, daughter of Ryan and Danielle Rhoads.

SurfKY News
Information provided by Brandi Schwartz

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