While Rice Township resident Sue Kaminski spends hours volunteering to cuddle, feed, and rock premature and sick babies, she says she is the one who reaps the rewards. To see an infant who’s struggling to survive be soothed by her voice and touch is a beautiful experience, she relates.
Sue nurtures the babies through a program called “Infant Cuddlers” at Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s neonatal intensive-care unit. Premature or ill infants need extra attention and being held and sung to help in their development, explained Sue.
“I sing to the babies. I tell them stories,” Sue said. “They don’t know what I’m saying, but my tone of voice comforts them.”
Sue nurtures the babies for three hours at a time, usually 7 to 10 p. m. When she arrives, she tells nurses, “Give me the baby that’s crying the most,” she related. She not only sings, but recites nursery rhymes and tells the babies stories.
“I teach all the little girls the story of Cinderella and the little boys the story of Jack and the Beanstalk,” Sue said. “I’m there for hours, it’s important for the babies to hear my voice….I have a 100-percent success rate at getting a baby to go to sleep.”
Sue found the program six months ago, when she was in the hospital recovering from spine surgery. She was feeling useless and without purpose and told this to a chaplain she met there. “He told me, ‘There is something you can do. We have infants in this hospital that need you,’” Sue recalled.
She put in an application for Infant Cuddlers, passed the screening test, and began helping the helpless. “I’ll never forget the first time I did it,” Sue remembered. “I sat down in the chair…I didn’t know what to expect. The nurse handed me a four-and-a-half pound baby girl. Her name was Madeline. I’ll never forget her.”
Sue held Madeline and was easily able to soothe the infant’s cries. “It was like somebody handed me my own baby from so many years ago,” Sue said. “She was looking up at me and I felt so much love. She was depending on me.”
A mother of two and grandmother of a 22-year-old, it had been a while since Sue had held a baby, but she never lost her instinct to nurture. “To me, it’s therapy, it’s treatment, it’s an anti-depressant,” she said, adding that it is rewarding seeing the babies begin to grow and thrive.
The program helps the nurses at the hospital, who only have so much time to devote to each baby. Sue stressed that the nurses at Geisinger “do a fabulous job and are the most compassionate nurses I’ve ever seen.” However, with four nurses on duty and usually eight to 10 babies in the NICU, volunteers are needed to help.
The NICU also has a few Mamaroos, cradle-like baby swings that gently bounce and rock the infants while playing soothing music. When Sue’s beloved sister, Arlene, passed away a few weeks ago, she and her husband decided to purchase a Mamaroo for the NICU.
“I thought how wonderful these things were and I thought I would do something in my sister’s honor,” Sue related. “She was a very generous person and I wanted to be generous in her honor.”
Now, four of the 10 rooms in the NICU have a Mamaroo. Sue suggested that anyone looking to purchase a Mamaroo in someone’s memory or as a gift on their behalf, contact Geisinger. Also, she added, more volunteers for Infant Cuddlers are always needed.
“It’s a really nice thing,” Sue concluded. “I get more out of it than the babies do. I feel honored to be able to do it. I feel honored for the nurse, doctor, and mother trust me to do it.”