By Rebecca Zamer/Joe Cingrana
81-year-old Joan Hart volunteers at the NICU cuddling newborns by patting them on the back, holding their tiny hands and giving them comfort when they need it most.
"The Cuddler Program helps parents feel a little bit better knowing that their baby will be comforted and soothed when they are not here," says Christy Dowd, a child life specialist who works closely with Joan and other volunteers.
Hart, who never had any children of her own says she’s always wanted to be a nurse. She estimates that she’s probably cuddled with more than 1,000 babies at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in the nine years she's been volunteering -- giving her a chance to make a difference in the newborn's lives as well as the loving nickname "Grandma Cuddles." Hart doesn’t only sit with the newborns, she also sings.
"I pray that they have a good life ahead of them," Hart says in a video posted on the hospital's Facebook page. "I well up because I know I won’t see them but I have angels all over... that’s what they are to me."
While 'Cuddlers' are expected to dedicate four hours a week, Joan will often stay six or seven hours, depending on how many children are in need.
"I fall in love every week," she says. "The minute you hold them and look into their sweet faces, you connect instantly. Each one has its own way to my heart."
For more information about Joan and the NICU Cuddler Program, visit New York Presbyterian's Health Matters blog.