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CHKD volunteer cuddler with a baby in the NICU

Cuddles are the Best Medicine

Author: Elizabeth Simpson Earley
Published Date: Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Longest Running Volunteer Cuddler at CHKD Shares Her Story

Dale Pearson has vivid childhood memories of hospitals.

The Portsmouth resident is a polio survivor and spent quite a bit of time in hospitals as a result of nine surgeries. She remembers seeing others with the disease in “iron lung machines.”

“You don’t forget something like that,” she said.

The hospital in Maine was a far cry from the cheerful halls of CHKD, where Dale now goes every week to cuddle babies.

She is the longest running CHKD Volunteer Cuddler, and has been coming to CHKD for 15 years to cuddle babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. She also goes to other units to hold and visit children who are too sick to go home just yet.

The Volunteer Cuddler program started at CHKD in 2003, and now has 39 cuddlers. The program was the recent recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Huggies. The grant was one of eight given to hospitals throughout the country this year to start or support ongoing programs that increase human touch of newborns in neonatal intensive care units.

At CHKD, the grant will be used to buy recliner chairs and footstools and to pay for expenses such as volunteer immunizations, uniforms, and background checks.

CHKD opened its NICU in 1972. Today, it’s the most advanced in the region, admitting about 550 babies a year. Last year, volunteers logged 1,600 hours holding and comforting babies.

Cuddlers must first have 60 hours of volunteering in other parts of the hospital before taking on this important position. Dale volunteered in other parts of the hospital for several years before becoming one of the first Volunteer Cuddlers.  

“Hugs are critical to our babies here at CHKD,” said Laura Biava, director of patient care services at the NICU. “Not only do cuddlers provide touch to help babies develop and grow, but they also reduce the burden and stress for families and staff who can’t always be there to cuddle their babies.”

During National Volunteer Week, we salute Dale and all our CHKD volunteers.

For more information about volunteering at CHKD, click here.  

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About Elizabeth Simpson Earley

About Elizabeth  Simpson Earley Elizabeth Simpson Earley works in the marketing and public relations department at CHKD. She handles calls from the media, and helps to promote CHKD and children’s health. A former health reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, Elizabeth has two grown daughters who were treated at CHKD on a regular basis.