Cuddler volunteers recognized as local heroes

Pat Rice and Claire Fitzgerald

Husband and wife duo Pat Rice and Claire Fitzgerald have been volunteering as Cuddlers for more than 20 years

A story this week from KALW public radio is recognizing a special group of volunteers at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford as local heroes: the baby Cuddlers.

For more than 25 years, the Packard Children’s Cuddler program has provided extra pairs of loving arms for premature and sick infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Parents spend as much time as they can with their hospitalized newborns, but they sometimes need to be away from the bedside, especially if the baby is in the hospital for a long period of time. Just as physicians and nurses tend to our tiny patients’ medical needs, the Cuddlers come in to support the babies’ emotional needs by holding, comforting and even singing to them when their parents can’t be present.

The Cuddlers play an important role for the medical care team, as Maureen Roberts, RN, a nurse in the Packard Children’s NICU, describes in the KALW segment:

“The Cuddler program is so great because we all want to see our babies get positive touch and stimulation — to be held more. It is so nice for us to have the Cuddlers come and hold our babies.”

Husband and wife duo Claire Fitzgerald and Pat Rice, both retired psychologists, have been volunteering as Cuddlers for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, they were recognized by Oprah magazine as 2017 “Health Heroes” for their service. Many years ago, their son, who was 3 months old at the time, was hospitalized with a suspected brain tumor. It turned out to be only a suspicion, but they remember the fear and worry they experienced while their newborn was in the hospital.

“I was one of those worried moms, and I said when my hair turns gray, I will come back and say ‘thank you,’ because I thought that was a great way to give back to the community,” Claire told KALW.

Cuddler volunteers can make a lasting impression on parents during their stay in the NICU. Seyi Mclelland is the mother of three young children, all of whom were born prematurely. She explained to KALW that the Cuddlers’ presence brought her family great comfort through the tumultuous journey of her babies’ first few months.

“You know, they actually nurture the whole family,” she says. “Not just the baby. It is you as well.”

Listen to the full KALW segment:


12 Responses to “Cuddler volunteers recognized as local heroes”

  1. Catherine McWilliam

    I was a nanny for 21 years! I am retired now & so miss the baby stage! I would love to volunteer to comfort a little new born that needs to be held & nurtured back to health

    • Stanford Children's Health

      Our baby Cuddlers are the best! You can learn more about becoming a Cuddler by visiting the Stanford Children’s Health volunteer page: Volunteers are an important part of the extraordinary care we provide, and we appreciate your interest.

      • Theresa Dinh

        I am from San Jose California interested in volunteering.

    • Geraldine Marty

      I have applied before but heard nothing other than I did do an online class but nothing after that … I want to re apply

  2. Tracy Elliott

    This is exactly what I would like to do. Is there a program in Santa Rosa, CA?
    Tracy Elliott

  3. Geraldine Marty

    very interested in working the cuddler program when I retire and would like information on how to go about the program. Please
    e mail me information and what I need to do to get started in the program …

  4. Laurie Uehara

    I am very interested in being a Cuddler for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Please send me information or let me know who I need to contact.

  5. Teri arbues

    I would so love to be a cuddler. There is nothing more special to me than holding a newborn. I worked at peninsula hospital for 35 Yrs., half the time on the floor as an LVN and the other half as a unit coordinator on a TCU. Our first born son was rushed to children’s hospital SF because his bilirubin was very high 37 Yrs. ago and the experience was very scary. We didn’t want to leave his side. We didn’t lose him then, but we lost him 13 Yrs ago in the Navy so being a cuddler would help fill that enormous empty space for me. Thank you. Sincerely Teri Arbues

    • Julienne Jenkins

      Hi Susie,

      You can learn more about the Cuddler program at Stanford Children’s Health on our Volunteer Services webpage:

      Stanford Children’s Health

  6. Laurie Lerner

    I’m interested in volunteering for the Cuddlers program
    Can I get on a list


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