'ICU grandpa' who won hearts by snuggling babies dies from pancreatic cancer

For nearly 15 years, David Deutchman - also known as "Intensive Care Grandpa" - cuddled babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and volunteered with sick toddlers at Children's Healthcare in Atlanta. His efforts to help overwhelmed parents and sick children went viral a few years ago. People liked to hear of his kindness to others when they needed it most.
Deutchman died on November 14 at the age of 86, just two and a half weeks after being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. His family can't believe he's gone, but they say they know his legacy will live on for many years to come becomes.
"Volunteering has absolutely enriched his life," Deutchman's daughter Susan Lilly, 55, of Telluride, Colorado, told TODAY parents. "The most important part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families."
Image: David Deutchman (Courtesy Mary Beth Brulotte)
"He's had a very successful business career and I've never heard him speak so gratefully and lovingly for what he did during his 41 years at the company, as if he had spoken about his commitment to the people of the hospital."
Deutchman began volunteering after retiring from a career in marketing. He found that he had too much free time and wanted to stay busy. One day he was at a nearby rehab facility when he saw Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta and stopped by to see if he could volunteer. After some training, his second act began as "grandpa in intensive care". While families often came to see him because he was so popular, he felt like the one who benefited most from his time there.
"He said on many occasions," I don't know how many people realize how much more I got than what I put in, "Lilly said." (He would say) "You know, I get feedback from families, how much you value me, but I value you. "
Deutchman loved holding the babies or playing with the older children, his daughter said. He understood that exhausted parents and families benefited from being there.
“The emotional support that he was able to offer especially mothers, but also many fathers and extended family members, brothers, sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers was important. He was almost like a clergyman or a social worker, ”Lilly said. "Even the nurses confided in him."
Volunteering inspired and motivated him.
"This was definitely a new purpose for him and something that absolutely enriched his life," said Lilly. “It was a great pleasure for us to see him work like that. Why not share his love with people who could use it in their most vulnerable times? "
Deutchman often kept an eye on babies and their families for years. When they returned to the hospital, he would try to visit them.
"He would go back (to the hospital) even if he hadn't volunteered on one of his days - especially if they had to have a specific procedure," Lilly said. "He would go in and hold her hands or hold her."
When Deutchman turned 85 in November 2019, his energy faded and he considered retiring from the volunteer position he loved so much. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started and the volunteer program was put on hold, allowing for a natural exit. He weakened over the months before seeing his doctor on October 27 for answers.
The next day he learned that he had metastatic pancreatic cancer. Doctors encouraged him to start hospice care.
"Neither of us expected to get such a bad diagnosis," said Lilly. "He made it very clear to all his loved ones and even to his friends that he is grateful to have led a full and rich life."
Before his death, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta held a parade to cheer up Deutchman and his family.
"We appreciate the support," said Lilly.
Deutchman is survived by his 58-year-old wife Ronnie. his daughters Susan Lilly and Jill Deutchman; and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lilly said she and her sister weren't surprised that their father was so popular with the families at the hospital. He's always been a great listener.
Lilly decided to take care of her father and become a volunteer paramedic. She said she believed that others could learn from her father's example too.
"Everyone can have a purpose at any stage of their life," she said. “It might have been surprising to him how much of it he got. Volunteering and serving others are deeply rewarding. "
An earlier version of this story was first published on TODAY.com.

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