Healing hands: the power of touch - New York News

Healing hands: the power of touch

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Each year, thousands of Georgia babies born prematurely spend their first few months of life in a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

In Grady Memorial Hospital's NICU, the babies stay for an average of three months. The nurses care for them around the clock, but these babies also need to be held, and bottle-fed, and comforted. So we got a chance to watch some of the volunteers who are here – to make sure the newborns aren't alone.

In the heart of Atlanta, inside one of the busiest hospitals in the country, Amber Mintz has found a part of Grady Memorial Hospital most of us never see. She says, "This is like an escape, and oasis… It's peace."

Once a week, Mintz and Kay Copilvetz, who've both been volunteering for 7 years, suit up in yellow paper gowns for their shifts.

Washing her hands, Amber says, "I love babies. I've always loved babies."

Amber, a Delta flight attendant, is here to see 5-week old Samuel Luke.

Born three months early, he's in Grady's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, trying to breathe with lungs that just aren't ready.

The first time Amber picked up one of these preemies, it was terrifying. She says, "You know, you see all these tubes. And all these machines. You think, "Oh!" But babies are very resilient."

And just being here, and holding Samuel Luke, Amber says, "It's magnificent. He's sweet. He's tiny, you have to be careful. Want to make sure that I'm holding him properly. He's a little bottle of heaven, you know? He's here, and he needs a little assistance."

There are about 30 babies in the Grady NICU on any given day. They're surrounded by monitors, equipment,

nurses and doctors. Kay Copelvitz, who is originally from Australia, says she comes here, "Every Wednesday, and it's the best day of the week."

In a quiet corner of the NICU, Kay takes over for the mother of for 3-week old Harmony, also born too soon. While Harmony's mother watches from a few feet away, Kay cradles her baby, and burps her. Most days, she talks to the babies as she holds them. She says, "Sometimes we talk about the weather, how awful it is outside, or how pretty it is outside. Whether they have brothers and sisters they're going to go home to."

The Grady NICU director, Jacqueline Jackson, RN, has been watching the volunteers work for 22 years now.

Each is trained on how to pick up, feed and comfort the newborns.

Jackson says that human touch matters. The babies, she say, "Need to be out of the bed, they do better. They gain weight. They respond better, when someone is holding them."

Sometimes, Jackson says, you can see the baby's heart rate, oxygen levels and breathing stabilize, just by being touched.

Amber says, "What keeps me coming back is that I know that I can be of use, to help them heal, and grow. And to help the nurses, so that they can do the really, really important stuff."

The volunteers help the new parents, too. Samuel Luke's mom lives an hour away in Cartersville, Ga. Harmony's mom has a six year old at home. So, Jackson says, they ask each new parent, "Do you mind if the volunteer comes in and hold and rocks and, if not, feeds your baby? And they've very open to that."

Kay Copelvitz says, "The most emotional to me is when a new baby comes in and you get to give them that very first bottle. And you think, "This is their first meal of their life!" And how exciting that is, that you get to do that."

At the end of their volunteer shifts, both women says it's hard to leave. Amber says, "This is the best thing that I do. It brings me the most joy. I hope that I can continue doing it, for a long time."

To learn more about how to become a volunteer at Grady, visit www.gradyhealth.org and click on the "volunteer" tab.

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