COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - How's this for a volunteer job? Going to the hospital and cuddling babies! One man has been doing it for decades. But the true benefit really isn't for him.
Just a few months ago Carmen Gomez couldn't hold her daughter in her arms.
"Abigail was born at 24 weeks gestation so she was 16 weeks early," Gomez says. "She was 1 pound 5 ounces when she was born and she was 12 inches."
Gomez can still remember the thoughts going through her mind.
"That there was only a 50 percent chance that she would survive," Gomez says. "And that I may not go home with the baby. It was very scary."
Even scarier was having to leave her daughter in the UCHealth Memorial Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, because she lived an hour away.
"I cried a lot," Gomez says.
Luckily Bruce Erickson is there when Gomez and the parents of the other babies here can't be.
"I'm just a pair of warm hands and gentleness," Erickson says. "I'm just I'm helping and helping them along."
An engineer by day, Erickson started volunteering as a baby cuddler 22 years ago.
"We went into the NICU and a nurse put a baby on my chest I was like ok I'm hooked," Erickson says.
And in that time he's become adept at hearing what these little ones can't say.
"They speak they just don't speak English," Erickson says. "If they don't like what you're doing they give you the hand stop signal or they will start to d-sat, have their oxygen saturation go down."
That's why Erickson says this job is more than simply holding a baby.
"I'm actually watching her skin especially around her lips to make certain that she doesn't turn blue, make certain that she remains good saturation," Erickson says. "I'm trying to pay attention to her muscle state."
Memorial Hospital Neonatologist Dr. Kara Murphy says the benefits babies get from cuddling go beyond comfort.
"Cuddling is an integral part of the care that we provide," says Dr. Murphy. "The cuddling allows them to be in the calm alert state and use the energy that they're getting from the nutrition to grow and develop their organs."
Erickson is getting something out of it too.
"It's probably one of the best times of my week," Erickson says.
But he says what's most rewarding is what he's giving.
To parents, it's peace of mind.
"It makes it a lot easier to be able to leave and know that somebody is going to go in there and hold her," Gomez says.