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Cuddles make a difference

A joint initiative between Mater Volunteers Services and Mater Children’s Hospital Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) is proving that non-clinical human touch can play an important part in caring for children in hospital.

In September 2009 two Mater Volunteers (Vandra Neylan and Jenny Lord) were welcomed into Mater Children’s Hospital PICU as ‘Cuddle Mums’.

They were there to provide cuddles and comfort to three-month-old Joseph and in doing so offer support to Joseph’s mum Alison as she faced the daunting role of caring for Joseph in hospital and looking after her second child at home.

The ‘Cuddle Mum’ concept had already been in successful operation in ward 8 South in Mater Children’s Hospital and Mater Mothers’ Hospital Special Care Nursery since 1993, but it had not yet been trialled in the high pressure environment of intensive care.

In preparation for their roles as PICU cuddle mums Ms Neylan and Ms Lord underwent a detailed induction process that involved competency based baby handling and bathing, infection control education and baby massage training. PICU staff also spent time with the cuddle mums to ensure they understood the high risk nature of paediatric intensive care cases and what they could expect during a shift.

The two women then began visiting Joseph in shifts each week, being with him for four hour blocks to offer soothing cuddles or a relaxing bath, which allowed Alison to spend some much needed time away from hospital with her daughter.

Ms Neylan and Ms Lord explained that despite a scary few minutes during the first cuddle mum shift when Joseph arrested, expanding the cuddle mum program into PICU was an instant success.

“Not long after I arrived for my first visit with Joseph he stopped breathing and the wheels of the unit went into motion to resuscitate and then stabilise him,” Ms Neylan said.

“It was frightening at first but to witness this fast-acting team of doctors and nurses manage the situation and at the same time do their best to make sure I was ok was a pretty special introduction,” she said.

“Alison [Joseph’s mum] was so glad to have us there to help her,” Ms Neylan said.

“We quickly established a good rapport with her and beautiful baby Joseph and our visits really seemed to make a difference.

“It was not long before we found ourselves giving Alison a comforting cuddle as well as Joseph,” she said.

The impact of the cuddle mums’ presence (they are now visiting with up to three long-stay children in the unit) has been felt strongly by the PICU team, according to acting Nurse Unit Manager Steven Miller.

“They provide a really important support to parents and families,” Mr Miller said.

“And we believe the non-clinical human touch they give to our little patients can make a big difference in both treatment and recovery. Its value can’t be underestimated.”

Vandra Neylan and Jenny Lord

Vandra Neylan and Jenny Lord

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