When you first hear David Deutchman’s voice, you feel a sense of warmth and kindness. The tone matches his personality and is perhaps why babies embrace him when he volunteers as a “baby buddy” at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
Deutchman is one of 12 baby buddies who provide comfort to premature or ill babies for parents who may have used up their leave from work.
While undergoing rehab for a knee injury at a medical office near Scottish Rite, Deutchman decided to walk into the hospital and ask about volunteer opportunities. Days later, he began spending time at Scottish Rite’s school that assists long-term patients.
But Deutchman, now in his early 80s, did not feel the position was the right fit for him until two events within five minutes changed everything.
After he escorted to a room a child who was to undergo surgery that morning, the child’s mother began disclosing every detail of the patient’s illness to Deutchman. Another mother soon fell into his arms, crying, while she shared her child’s condition.
“I said, ‘OK, I got a message coming to me,’” Deutchman said. “I want to volunteer somewhere where I can be in contact with the children and the parents.”
Soon after, Deutchman began volunteering in the pediatric intensive care unit. “I would sometimes speak to parents for an hour, hold their hand or look after their children while they went to eat breakfast,” he said. “No matter what it took, I was there for them, and that was tremendous for me.”
Deutchman’s fame began after a nurse asked him to hold a premature baby in the neonatal intensive care unit. “The mother walked in and said, ‘I’m so happy you’re holding my baby,’ and when she asked who I was, I said, ‘I’m the ICU grandpa.’”
Deutchman estimates that he has held 1,200 to 1,500 babies at Scottish Rite and believes that each one has left an impression on him. Since his story appeared on Great Big Story, he has garnered attention through social media, YouTube and publications such as People magazine.
Some say the video of his story has attracted 1 billion views. Deutchman said it’s closer to 700 million, but he is not one to brag about it.
“It’s been a merry-go-round and an adventure,” he said.
Deutchman has collected countless stories the past 12 years while volunteering at Scottish Rite’s NICU. He recalled one baby with multiple health problems and his close relationship with the family.
“There were some scary moments, and it was a long five-to-six-month experience. … But I just put my hand on their shoulder and tried to be there for them because it was so emotionally draining,” he said.
Deutchman remains in contact with the family and holds a reunion every year.
While many people spend retirement traveling or playing golf, Deutchman sought to give back by volunteering after retiring as a Maidenform executive in 2000. He initially delivered guest lectures at universities, but when he discovered that he had extra time, he looked for additional opportunities.
“My friends in the beginning said, ‘What do you do there?’ And I said, ‘Well, sometimes I hold babies, get puked on and vomited on.’ You know, it’s terrific. … But I think for guys my age, getting off your butt and doing something is important, if for no other reason than to give back for all the things you have enjoyed in life,” he said. “I can’t imagine not doing this.”