NICU Volunteer Gives to Help Babies Thrive

Pat Gunnip with NICU nurse Erin Kellstrom

Pat Gunnip with NICU nurse Erin Kellstrom

Five years. 3,500 hours. That’s how much time retired office machine repairman Pat Gunnip has dedicated to volunteering in the OHSU Doernbecher neonatal intensive care unit. “I am 70 years old and I enjoy this more than anything I’ve done in my life,” Pat said. “I pick up other volunteers’ shifts when they can’t make it because I love it so much.”

While watching a documentary on preemies, Pat learned about the critical need for NICU volunteers called baby cuddlers. “That really appealed to me, so I contacted OHSU volunteer services and began helping soon thereafter,” noted Pat. “Ninety-five percent of what we do is holding the babies, helping them stay calm and happy, which helps them grow and thrive.”

Pat has also seen the effect his role has on the parents of NICU babies. “Oftentimes parents can’t be here as much as they would like because of work or other family obligations, which can add even more stress to an already stressful situation,” he said. “When the parents arrive at the NICU and see that their baby is happily resting in someone’s arms, that helps calm them, too, and the parents’ calmness is sensed by the baby.”

In fulfilling his role for these special newborns, Pat has many stories of big gains for the littlest babies. “One little girl spent the first 14 months of her life at Doernbecher. She was adorable but exceptionally burdened with a host of health issues and received almost no visitors,” Pat explained. “When she left, she was a happy, social little lovebug. For her, I feel that Doernbecher became more than just a health care provider: It was her foster family for the critical first year of her life.”

Pat is convinced that a large portion of the credit for the babies’ successful outcomes lies with the nurses. “I’ve seen the NICU nurses in action, and they have a deep, heartfelt concern for each baby individually,” Pat said. “They are highly- skilled professionals focused on the well-being of every infant in their care.”

In addition to his volunteering — and because he wants to “leave something good behind” — Pat has made an outright contribution to Doernbecher as well as a legacy gift in his estate plan. “I’m childless and my other family members are well provided for, so I thought ‘Where is a good place to give?’ Doernbecher was top of the list.”

Pat thinks so highly of the NICU nurses with whom he has collaborated that the terms of his gift ensure they will have an important role in determining how his gift is allocated.

“My interaction with the nurses, their appreciation of my role in the NICU, and their love of the babies is a big part of why volunteering at Doernbecher means so much to me,” Pat continued. “I hope through my support the nurses know they are appreciated in a very real way.”