PORTLAND - It has to be some of the most rewarding and emotional volunteer work.

A dozen volunteers at Portland s Providence St. Vincent Medical Center soothe the tiniest patients five days a week.

Pat Cohen caresses babies and loves to rock. Sue Tenison comforts a cry with a sway and a show tune.

They work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

When you re in a high-stress unit like this when one baby cries the tension goes up and everybody gets stressed, explained Karen Davis the nurse who oversees the program.

You watch the monitors when they cry and the heart goes up to 200. Then you cuddle and the heart rates goes down to 130 or 120, marveled volunteer Pat Cohen.

The volunteers provide a break to Moms and Dads whose babies stay for months in the unit. Though parents can opt out of the program if they want. They also provide assistance to the nurses who care for two fragile babies during a shift.

Everybody wants to hold babies but the volunteers are here to help with other jobs in the unit, said Karen Davis.

Filling blanket warmers, stocking gowns and assembling parent notebooks are among the other responsibilities.

Volunteers like Sue and Pat had to earn the right to cuddle. They volunteered for two months in the unit and were selected for four hours of specialized training.

If they have a drug withdrawal baby they learn not to over stimulate them. They also learn how to handle tubes and get up safely out of a rocking chair. Safety is huge, Davis says of the training she provides.

Research shows babies who are cuddled gain weight faster and reach social milestones more quickly. Cuddling can lead to shorter hospital stays.

For the volunteers like Sue and Pat, who each raised two children and are now retired, the work is just as beneficial for them as it is for the precious patients.

I am grandma and I do this to say thanks for my four beautiful grandchildren, concluded Pat Cohen with a smile.

For more info about volunteering at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center check out

Read or Share this story: