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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — For the next few minutes, Kay Stickle is going to be Cincaid's grandma.
She holds him up against her chest and tells him she loves him. She tells him about his beautiful eyes and hair. She asks how his morning has been, then decides it's been pretty good except for the hiccups.
One hand gently pats and rubs his back. She promises to get rid of those hiccups.
Cincaid squints and stretches. His 6-week-old hand is the size of Stickle's fingertip. Then he does something that excites Stickle. He looks at her, follows her voice.
In this way Stickle has had more than 100 grandchildren over the past 10 years.
It's 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and so far the day has been calm aside from a short cry from one of the other 12 babies in the dimly lit room. They lie in beds raised to most of the nurses' waist level and are surrounded by technology.
Each has a screen with three numbers on it — important numbers. Those numbers tell the nurses what hurts and what needs to be done, because the babies can't.
Cincaid has his own set of numbers, but Stickle isn't watching them. She's the only person in the room who doesn't have to.
She's one of about 16 official cuddlers, trained volunteers who work weekly 4-hour shifts soothing and holding the NICU babies. She's there to provide some extra love.
Each nurse in the NICU has two or three babies to attend to, which doesn't leave much extra time to wash and put away clothes, change diapers or comfort. The cuddler is an extra set of hands.
Sindee Fry got the idea for the program a decade ago from a hospital in Arizona. She had been an NICU nurse, so she knew it would be helpful.
"I couldn't bear to listen to a baby crying and not have anyone be there," she said. Fry was one of the first cuddlers, back when there were only four. Now she works with NICU director Vickie Stanley to keep it going, which includes training and scheduling volunteers.
Stickle said she never takes a baby away from his or her mom, but sometimes parents can't be at the hospital 24/7. They might haves jobs or long commutes or other children. Sickle said some mothers wait until their child leaves the NICU to take their maternity leave.
"It comforts them to know somebody is here," she said.
Sometimes Stickle helps show a new parent the ropes, like the best way to hold or feed the baby.
In Cincaid's case, Stickle is holding him while his mother, Chanda Fouseridge, feeds his twin, Cutter. Two babies is a lot, so Fouseridge said she is grateful for the help.
"It's just like having a grandma on site," she said. She also has a 3-year-old son.
Stickle is a retired Ball State University elementary education professor. She has six biological nieces and nephews, nine great-nieces and -nephews and nine grandchildren. But none of them are in Indiana, which leaves her with a lot of pent-up grandmotherly affection.
"Our babies were out of the state," she said. "So I figured I could borrow babies here."
She's known Cincaid and Cutter for the first seven weeks of their lives. She's helped make signs to celebrate their monthly birthdays.
Next she'll be making decorations for their little party to celebrate them leaving the hospital. And then she hopes to run into the family at the grocery store or church so she can catch up and hear about how they've grown.
"Just like a grandma," she said.
Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, http://tspne.ws/1MspSgm
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Muncie) Star Press.
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