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'ICU grandpa' snuggles newborns when their parents can't be in the hospital

David Deutchman, 82, has been volunteering at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's intensive care units for more than 12 years.
/ Source: TODAY

When Mary Beth Brulotte’s son, Logan, was born 3 1/2 months early and weighed a mere 1 pound, 15 ounces, she knew he would have to spend time in the intensive care unit. What the 33-year-old from LaGrange, Georgia, didn’t fully realize was how guilty she would feel leaving him alone in the hospital.

“Every mom pictures their baby in their crib all alone crying,” Brulotte told TODAY, noting that the drive from her home to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is two hours, her husband works a night shift and she has an 8-year-old daughter to care for, too.

But those feelings disappeared in late September when she stumbled on David Deutchman cradling her sleeping baby at the hospital.

David Deutchman, 82, holds Logan Brulotte, 5 months. Deutchman is known as the "ICU grandpa" at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He's a volunteer who holds babies when their parents can't in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units.Courtesy of Mary Beth Brulotte

“I was heading in and was filled with anxiety. It was just wiped away when I saw him there holding Logan fast asleep," she said. "He introduced himself as the ‘ICU grandpa’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be real. This man is like an angel.' He said he heard Logan crying and asked the nurse if he could hold him and sing him to sleep.”

Deutchman, 82, has been volunteering at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s ICUs for more than 12 years. On Tuesdays, he spends time with older children at the pediatric ICU, and on Thursdays he makes rounds at the neonatal ICU, where he holds babies whose parents can’t be with them that day.

But why ICUs? “I like the fact that there’s some serious stuff going on and I have an opportunity to make a contribution and help out,” said Deutchman, who has two grown daughters in their 50s and two grandchildren who are 19 and 21 years old. “You don’t know each day what you’re going to find and what you’re going to be confronted with … It’s an atmosphere where there’s a lot of friendliness and warmth and appreciation. It’s great. I really enjoy it.”

Deutchman, who lives in Atlanta, began volunteering after he retired from a career in international business marketing. He became a guest lecturer at nearby universities, but found he still had too much free time. One day, he was at a rehab facility for a running injury that happened to be next to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, when he thought it might be rewarding to see if there were any volunteer opportunities there.

He told TODAY he enjoys working not only with young patients, but their parents as well.

“In the hospital, the kid is getting a lot of the attention from the doctors and the nurses," he said. "I found quickly that my niche could be taking care of moms. I go into the room and ask how they are doing, if they’ve had breakfast, and if they haven’t, to go. I tell them, ‘I won’t leave the room until you come back.’” He added that oftentimes when he asks how the parents are doing, they tell him about their child. “I repeat, ‘No. How are you doing? Sometimes they break down. Some are up all night in stressful conditions.”

He typically volunteers from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., two days a week. In the NICU, Deutchman will usually hold just two to three babies in one shift, because he likes to hold them for an hour or longer. “It breaks my heart to put them in the crib so they are alone again,” he told TODAY, adding, “I think it’s important to hold the babies so they feel snuggly.” Then in the PICU, which has patients who are up to 21 years old, he’ll keep patients company, recounting a time when he kept a young child occupied by soaking paper towels in water, turning them into balls and playing basketball with a wastebasket.

For parents like Brulotte, Deutchman’s dedication and love for her son have been lifesaving. Logan, who is 5 months old and 10 pounds but still has chronic lung disease, may be able to go home as early as this week.

“I don’t feel so alone in this journey. I’ve felt like at all times, someone is there with my baby, regardless of whether I’m here or not. He’s got someone looking out for him,” said Brulotte. “That’s what really touched me. (Deutchman) doesn’t even know me, doesn’t know my family and he didn’t care. He heard Logan crying and rushed right in and soothed him. It’s those type of people that don’t search for the recognition that deserve it. I think he’s just incredible.”

A picture shared of Deutchman holding Logan on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Facebook page went viral, with other parents of former patients praising the volunteer’s work.

“He rocked our baby for countless hours. What a wonderful gift he has, and what a blessing it is that he shares that love with others,” wrote one woman. “I spent many an afternoon chatting with David...while he mostly takes care of the babies, he used to take care of me, too. I always looked forward to his visits at my baby's bedside!” wrote another.

Deutchman said that after a decade he doesn’t know how long he’ll continue to volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, but there are no plans to stop anytime soon.

“At my age there are times you don’t have a lot of energy," he said, "but I find that I’m energized when I go in."