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The “grandfather of the intensive care unit”, who won hearts by cuddling babies, dies of pancreatic cancer

For nearly 15 years, David Deutschman – also known as the “grandfather of the intensive care unit” – hugged babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and played with sick young children as a volunteer in children’s health care in Atlanta. His efforts to help overworked parents and sick children went viral a few years ago; people loved to hear about his kindness to others when they needed him most.

Deutschman died at the age of 86 on November 14, just two and a half weeks after being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. His family can’t believe he̵

7;s gone, but they say they know his legacy will continue for years to come.

“Volunteering has absolutely enriched his life,” Deutsch Daughter’s daughter, Susan Lily, 55, from Telluride, Colorado, told TODAY. “The most significant part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families.”

David Deutschman.Courtesy of Mary Beth Brulot

“He had a very successful business career and I have never heard him speak with such gratitude and love for what he does, at any time during his 41 years in the company, as he talks about his participation in the people in the hospital.”

Deutschman began volunteering after retiring from a marketing career. He found that he had too much free time and wanted to keep practicing. One day he was in a nearby rehab facility when he saw children’s health care in Atlanta and showed up to see if he could volunteer. After some training, he began his second act as “ICU’s grandfather”. While families often looked for him because he was so popular, he felt as if he was the one who made the most of his time there.

“He said many times, ‘I don’t know how many people realize how much more I get out of this than I put in,'” Lily said. “(He would say)” You know, I get feedback from families how much they value me, but I I appreciate them. “

Deutschman liked to hold babies or play with older children, his daughter said. He realized that exhausted parents and families took advantage of being there.

“The emotional support he managed to provide mainly to the mothers, but also to many of the fathers and extended family members, brothers, sisters, grandparents, was important. He was almost like a member of the clergy or a social worker, “Lily said. “Even the nurses trusted him.”

Volunteering inspired and motivated him.

“It was definitely a new goal for him and something that absolutely enriched his life,” Lily said. “It was a great pleasure to see how he has that impact. Why not share his love with people who could use it in their most vulnerable times? “

Deutschman often observed babies and their families for years. If they return to the hospital, he will try to visit them.

“He would have returned (to the hospital) even if he hadn’t volunteered one of his days – especially if they had to have a procedure,” Lily said. “He would come in and grab them by the arms or grab them.”

When Deutschman turned 85 in November 2019, his energy began to wane and he considered retiring from the volunteer position he loved so much. Then the COVID-19 pandemic began and the volunteer program was halted, allowing a natural way out. As the months went by, he lost weight before visiting his doctor on October 27 to get answers.

The next day he learned that he had metastatic pancreatic cancer. Doctors encourage him to start caring for a hospice.

“None of us expected to get such a terrible diagnosis,” Lily said. “He made it very clear to all his relatives and even to his friends that he felt grateful to have lived a full and rich life.”

Before his death, Atlanta Children’s Health organized a parade to cheer up Deutschman and his family.

“We appreciate the outpouring of support,” Lily said.

Deutschman is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ronnie; his daughters, Susan Lily and Jill Deutschman; and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lily said she and her sister were not surprised that their father was so popular with families at the hospital. He has always been a great listener.

Lily decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a volunteer emergency medical technician. She said she believed others could learn from her father’s example.

“Everyone can have a purpose at any stage of their lives,” she said. “It simply came as a surprise to him how much came out of it. Volunteering and serving others is deeply rewarding. “

An earlier version of this story was first published on TODAY.com.

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