On any given day, there can be 30 to 45 babies in Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit. All of them need medical attention, but they also need to just be held.
That’s where Marshall and Judy Weingarten come into the picture. Every week —and sometimes multiple times a week — they come in to hold the delicate infants and provide a little extra love where they can.
“There a lot of families that live a long distance away or who have other children at home or have gone back to work, and so they aren’t able to be here as often as their heart tells them to,” said Tiffany Crabtree, a perinatal social worker at the NICU. “They like that there’s someone here holding their baby and giving them attention.”
Crabtree and co-worker Elaine Riordan run the Warm Arms program, which has 18 volunteers who come in at scheduled times seven days a week. Volunteers must be older than 21 and have some experience with babies.
“It helps babies to have human contact, which is helping their brains thrive, and if their brains are thriving, their bodies are thriving. It can regulate heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature. It’s very important,” Crabtree said. “It’s been really important to us that the only thing our Warm Arms do is hold the babies. They don’t change diapers or feed the baby.”
The Weingartens, who live in Overland Park, have been faithful volunteers with the hospital’s Warm Arms program since 2012. In 2008, Marshall underwent five cardiac bypasses at the hospital and was so impressed with the care he got there that he wanted to give back.
“I’m not scared holding them anymore,” Marshall said. “You should see what a three-pound preemie can do to a 200-pound man. You feel like a bowl of jelly.”
As volunteers hold the babies, often, they’ll quietly talk with them to provide a more soothing environment.
Although volunteers don’t usually hold the more fragile babies who are on ventilators, Marshall recalled holding one such baby who only weighed two pounds.
“They put the baby on my chest, and he fell asleep for two and a half hours. It was the most outstanding experience of my life, other than the birth of my own children,” Marshall said.
Crabtree said the Weingartens’ dedication is particularly notable.
“They both will be available anytime, so if one of our volunteers is sick or on vacation, or we have a need, we just call. (Marshall will) say, ‘OK, I’ll be there in five minutes,’ ” she said.
Judy and her daughter, Roberta Weingarten, also spend their spare time knitting blankets for NICU patients. So far, Judy has made 27 blankets, and Roberta has made eight for the hospital.
“She always gives those blankets to the social work desk so we can identify a family that could really use it, whether it’s for a pick-me-up or because the family has a financial need,” Crabtree said.
Judy just enjoys being able to do something extra for the babies.
“It just takes a whole 20 seconds before you fall in love with the kid,” Judy said. “…They just look up at you, and — wow,” Judy said.
In the end, everyone wins.
“I think there are four winners. The babies benefit with extra comfort and rocking time. Parents know that their kids are getting extra attention. We know nurses appreciate the time to catch up on work,” Marshall said.
“I think Judy and I are the biggest winners.”
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can help
To volunteer for the Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s Warm Arms program, call (913) 541-5439.