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Miami Proud: Volunteer Cuddler Gives Gift Of Human Connection To Babies At Baptist Hospital

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- A Miami woman with a warm heart and soothing voice is volunteering her time to help some of the youngest patients at Baptist Hospital.

Little Amaya was just two pounds twelve ounces when she was born 28 weeks premature.

Debbie Figaro has a special connection, she's been cuddling Amaya and many other babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as a sort of volunteer "baby whisperer."

"Now look at you! You have just gained so much weight and just grown and grown," Figaro coos at the infant. "It's a very, very warm feeling to know that you have taken the baby and held the baby and comforted the baby, when the mother may not have been able to do that at that particular time," says Figaro.

Debbie Figaro cuddles a baby at Baptist Hospital as a volunteer. (CBS4)

No one can replace the bond between mother and child, but parents can't be there 24/7.

"They have other responsibilities, other children, jobs, and must work. So I come and hold the babies and just give them some love and cuddle them. Sometimes I'll hold them and they will sleep in my arms for two hours or an hour and a half, and if I put them down then they are up!"

Figaro's nurturing personality may come from her career as a physical therapist. Now retired, she's been volunteering here in the neonatal intensive care unit almost two years, and with other patients for many years. Her time spent with the newborns is rewarding and valuable.

Miami Proud Baby Cuddler Pkg For Air_1
Debbie Figaro cuddles a baby at Baptist Hospital as a volunteer. (CBS4)

"Studies show that it helps them grow it helps them gain weight, helps them thrive, helps them get home sooner so her input is invaluable," according to Debbie Saltzman, a physical therapist in the NICU. "Her role is to help the babies that are getting a little bit older, need a little more interaction, stimulation, so she'll come and cuddle with them, she reads to them and sings to them."

For Figaro, it's a blessing.

"I look forward to seeing them, I look forward to see how they are growing, how they are improving and when they get a chance to go home, it's a wonderful feeling, wonderful feeling that you had a very small part in helping them reach that goal," says Figaro.

It does take special training and background to volunteer in the NICU, but Baptist Health is accepting college students and adult volunteers to help out throughout the hospital.

Click here for more information.


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