David Deutchman, who was better known as ‘ICU grandpa’ for cuddling and soothing newborn babies at an Atlanta hospital, passed away recently. Many on social media mourned the death of a man they said was an ‘Angel of God’.
Deutchman, who became an internet sensation for his acts of kindness, died of pancreatic cancer. He mainly worked with premature newborns admitted in intensive care at at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) while their parents couldn’t be with them during the day. The 86-year-old had volunteered at the hospital for nearly 15 years.
The medical centre praised the Atlanta resident for his actions that provided comfort to its tiniest occupants.
“Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta extends its deepest sympathy to the family of David Deutchman,” CHOA said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“David was a long-time volunteer in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care unit at Scottish Rite for 14 years, providing support to many patients and their families. The Children’s family will never forget this incredible legend and the countless lives he touched,” it added.
“Volunteering absolutely enriched his life,” Deutchman’s daughter, Susan Lilly, told TODAY Parents. “The most meaningful part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families.”
To honour Deutchman, the hospital held a a drive-by parade outside his home shortly before his demise. Led by one of the NICU transport vehicles, a procession of nearly 30 cars—some carrying employees, some carrying patients he had soothed years ago—honked, waved and shared the best wishes as his family watched from 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,” the hospital wrote in a Facebook post that shared the clip.
Deutchman’s work was first noticed on the internet in 2017, and had been praised by millions across the globe for his service.
At the time, Deutchman had told NBC affiliate 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. It’s been wonderful because it gives me something to do that has meaning to it.”
After retiring from his job as an international marketing executive in 2000, Deutchman had become a guest lecturer in Atlanta-area universities. However, he took up volunteering after a leg injury.
Deutchman first worked in the hospital’s school for long-term patients. But soon realised his calling after he met the mothers of two infants who were admitted in intensive care.
Cradling fragile babies has been shown to improve their health, said Elizabeth Mittiga, a nurse at the hospital had told CNN at the time. “It definitely helps just feeling that comfort, that warmth. It definitely helps them to, I think, grow faster and put more weight on, and feeding-wise, can help them digest their feeds better and things like that,” she had said.
Social media pages of the hospital were flooded with messages after Deutchman’s passing. People thanked him for his work over the years and many said he “will not be forgotten”.