Grandpa who cuddled intensive care babies for 14 years dies of cancer

David Deutchman was known as the ‘ICU grandpa’, after spending over a decade volunteering in intensive care units to comfort sick children.

86-year-old David sadly passed away this Saturday, two weeks after he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer.

You may recognise David after he went viral in 2017. A video showed the former marketing boss cuddling babies on a hospital ward in Atlanta, where he spent 14 years volunteering.

After retiring, he’d visit the hospital’s paediatric intensive care unit every Tuesday cuddle babies whose parents couldn’t be with them, going to the neonatal intensive care unit each Thursday.

Over the years he became known as ICU grandpa, with parents and hospital staff finding the work he did to comfort the children at the hospital invaluable.

David’s daughter Susan Lilly said: ‘Volunteering absolutely enriched his life.

‘He had a very successful business career, and I’ve never heard him talk with such appreciation and love for what he was doing any time during his 41 years with the company like he talked about his involvement with the people at the hospital.’

Back when the videos of David and the babies warmed the hearts of the internet, he told 11 Alive: ‘Some of my guy friends, they ask me what I do here. And I say, “Well, I hold babies. I get puked on, I get peed on, and they say, “Why would you do that?”‘

‘Some people just don’t understand the kind of reward you would get from holding a baby like this.’

Susan added: ‘He would go back [to the hospital] even if it wasn’t during one of his days that he volunteered — especially if they had to have a certain procedure.

‘He would go in and hold their hands or hold them.’

David’s role was put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is when he received his cancer diagnosis.

‘None of us expected to get such a dire diagnosis,’ Susan told Today.

‘He made it very clear to all his loved ones and even his friends that he feels grateful to have lived a full and rich life.’ 

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta arranged a car parade to cheer up David and his family before he passed on, sharing the video on Facebook with the caption: ‘To honor this hospital legend, who spent nearly 15 years tending to little ones in our intensive care units, our staff organized a drive-by parade outside of his home.

‘Led by one of our NICU transport trucks, a procession of nearly 30 cars — some carrying Children’s employees, some carrying patients who had been soothed by David many years ago — honked, waved, and shared well wishes as his family gathered in their driveway. 

‘For a grand finale, a Children’s transport helicopter circled over his home, an emotional tribute to a man who has dedicated his retirement years to watching over our kids.’ 

Tributes to him poured in from across the state, with many sharing stories of how he’d helped them in their darkest times.

One person wrote: ‘David was a bright spot during our almost six-month stay at CHOA,’

‘He would sit with [my daughter] Victoria during her NICU days, and sing to her when I was going to get food or shower. 

‘He brought so many treats to the Ronald McDonald House, too. He hand-painted two fish for me, because my husband was working with fish.

‘He was always so thoughtful to our family. Thank you so much for being our rock through the most difficult challenge in our lives.’ 

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