David Deutchman says he has held more than a thousand babies—and counting.
For the past 12 years, Deutchman has visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta twice a week to hold and comfort babies in the neonatal intensive care unit—earning him the nickname “ICU Grandpa” from staff and parents. Even if he gets vomited on occasionally, the 82-year-old says the experience has been nothing short of rewarding.
“It is very gratifying, not just because the babies are crying and you help them to stop crying,” Deutchman, from Atlanta, Georgia, tells PEOPLE. “There are a lot of benefits to that warm connection of being held—when a baby puts their face against your heartbeat, there’s a benefit there. I came to love it, but not just because of the connection with the babies, but the whole atmosphere of the hospital.”
Deutchman retired from international business marketing about 15 years ago and spent some of his newfound free time giving lectures at local universities. But it wasn’t enough for him, and he wound up walking into Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to ask if they had any volunteering opportunities available. He helped for a year in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, and was soon asked to help in the NICU.
“Before you know it, I was holding little babies,” he says while laughing. “And 12 years have just flown by.”
Deutchman, who is married and has two daughters in their 50s and two grandkids, doesn’t just help the little ones, but makes sure worried mothers have a shoulder to lean on when they need it, as well.
“I talk with mothers and sometimes I hold their hand, because holding a mom’s hand is just as important as holding a baby,” he says. “There’s a lot of stress for these parents. Having somebody tell them they can go get breakfast and assure them I’ll be there with their baby, it means something to them. It’s important.”
Deutchman makes his visits to see babies and parents on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and says that though he doesn’t know what will await him behind hospitals doors, he’ll do his best to find a way to offer compassion and warmth to those who need it.
“When I drive into that parking lot every other day, I never know what I’m going to see, who I’m going to be meeting, or what challenge will be in front of me,” he says. “It keeps changing, but if there’s anything I can do to make sure people are taken care of, that’s what I’m going to do.”