Eileen Burg has a long history with Akron Children’s. As a teenager she volunteered as a ‘candy striper’ followed by a 3-month stint as a student nurse. In addition to volunteering, Eileen began donating to the hospital to honor her late husband, H. Peter Burg, who served on the hospital’s board of directors.
Her first donation was an incubator to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“After my donation, the hospital sent a picture of a little girl inside the incubator,” said Eileen. “I’ve kept in touch with her for more than a decade now. And watching her grow makes me so proud.”
In 2019 her journey came full circle when she decided it was time to return to volunteering – this time as a cuddler in the NICU.
“There is nothing more rewarding than holding a fussy baby and having them become so relaxed they fall asleep in your arms,” said Eileen.
According to Vicki Parisi, director of volunteers, cuddlers play a vital role aiding neonatal staff in calming and soothing infant patients by holding, singing, talking and reading to them. The hospital currently utilizes volunteer cuddlers in its Akron, Mahoning Valley, Summa, Akron General Cleveland Clinic, St. Elizabeth, St. Joe’s and Aultman neonatal departments.
“We have a waiting list of volunteers who want to be cuddlers,” said Vicki. “Everybody loves babies.”
Eileen says sometimes she will hold the same baby for her entire 2-hour shift and other times she may cuddle as many as 3 other babies on the same day, depending on the need.
Amy Burg Cole said her mom didn’t have to twist her arm too hard to get her to join her.
“My mom doesn’t drive so she needed someone to take her for her weekly shift,” said Amy. “She recruited her sister, Colleen, and me. We really look forward to it.”
Volunteers know which babies need extra cuddles through a color dot system placed on the patients’ doors.
“A green dot means go ahead, an orange dot means ask a nurse and a red dot means do not enter,” Amy said.
After arriving for their shift, the women walk around the unit to see who’s crying or who’s awake.
“It’s amazing how the babies have their own little personalities at such a young age,” said Amy. “It’s very satisfying when they smile or fall asleep because you know you are making a difference in their lives.”
Amy also enjoys singing and reading to the babies.
“You definitely get attached to certain babies,” said Amy. “I’ll check on them each week and see how they are improving or how much they have grown.”
Parents are also very appreciative of the extra sets of hands.
“Families have expressed their appreciation to me for the love we give their babies when they can’t be there,” said Colleen Reaman (Eileen’s sister and Amy’s aunt). “The nurses are also very appreciative of the help because they are often stressed and can’t sit with a baby for hours on end.”
Colleen said the rewards come in the forms of smiles and giggles.
“It’s very gratifying to know the time I spend interacting with the babies is making a difference in their young lives,” she said.
All 3 women say the bonding experience extends to their own family as well.
“This is time we get to spend together and it’s a bonding experience for the three of us as well,” said Colleen. “Sometimes the smallest gestures have a way of impacting our lives forever.”
Although there is currently a waiting list to become a cuddler, other volunteer opportunities exist. To learn more about volunteering at Akron Children’s, call 330-543-8424 (Akron campus) or 330-746-8350 (Beeghly campus).