Gary Levin and little Madison aren’t related but they share a special bond.
"Uncle Gary loves you, oh yeah," says Gary as he holds baby Madison, who was born weeks before her due date.
Gary is one of nearly 40 volunteers at Desert Regional Medical Center with a very special job.
"We don’t do anything medical, we don’t feed, we don’t diaper, … we have to put the gown on before we do anything we just hold the baby and give the baby love," says Gary.
They’re part of the Cuddlers Program that got started thanks to Gary almost four years ago for babies who are so sick or premature they have to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for long periods of time.
"The babies are absolutely adorable the baby’s also ill and they’re in ICU and you have to remember that, they’re our littlest patients, but they’re patients nonetheless," says Gary.
And sadly, not all babies are as serene as Madison, for a lot of reasons, none their fault.
"Yeah there a few especially, there were one or two that were going through withdrawal and that’s rough, that’s very rough," says Gary, but he’s no stranger to children who need a little more help in life, "I think with my special ed background as a teacher for all those years I just have empathy for them and you really have to learn a special way to hold them, I call it finding the sweet spot."
These volunteers are a godsend for parents who have to leave their most precious cargo behind and go back to life’s other responsibilities.
"Even though I’ve been here everyday, I can’t be here 24/7," says first time mom Megan Mentzer.
Mentzer says her little Madison is proof the TLC from the cuddlers combined with the excellent medical care from the staff works wonders, "Kind of in shock but she’s a little miracle and they’ve been taking such good care of her that she’s really thriving."
The cuddlers certainly know what they’re not.
"We’re not replacing parents by any stretch of the imagination," says Gary.
But they do know, what they do, matters.
"Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are up above the world so high like a diamond in the sky … " sings Gary as little Madison sleeps in his arms.
To volunteer click here: Volunteer with Desert Regional Medical Center