Hurley Volunteer Cuddlers

Patricia Heslip raised 14 children. They’re all grown now, but Patricia, 73, of Howell, isn’t done nurturing babies. She and her daughter Marianne Stuart, 49, of Owosso, meet every Tuesday morning at Hurley Medical Center. There, they cuddle, rock and share loving energy with babies who are patients at Hurley’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The mother/daughter volunteer duo went through training at Hurley, learning techniques to hold and calm the babies, who are premature, medically fragile or going through drug withdrawal. The training also includes information about Hurley policies and a background check.
Marianne said her mom actually wanted to become a volunteer cuddler more than 30 years ago.
“My sister was in an accident and my mom visited the hospital day after day and watched babies that weren’t being held,” Marianne recalled.
But with such a large family, Patricia’s hands were — literally — full and the dream was put on hold until last year.
Many parents of hospitalized babies cannot be at the hospital 24 hours a day. They may have other children at home, need to go to work or just go home to shower and rest.
Numerous studies have shown the benefit of human touch, especially when it comes to preemies. Snuggled babies tend to sleep better, have stronger vital signs and more stable respiratory and heart rates.
“Cuddlers are able to rock them, hold them, sing to them and provide them with a pacifier so the babies can become more relaxed and comfortable,” said Samantha Bacon, an NICU occupational therapist.
Volunteers like Marianne and Patricia are eager to help. And they get something out of the interaction as well. “I benefit. I have a need to nurture. It is a win-win on our part,” Marianne said. “Sometimes I go home and tell my husband I made a difference in a baby’s life today.”