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

“Volunteering absolutely enriched his life,” his daughter said. “It brought us great pleasure to see him having that impact.”

David Deutchman. (Courtesy Mary Beth Brulotte)
David Deutchman. (Courtesy Mary Beth Brulotte) (Copyright 2020 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

ATLANTA – For nearly 15 years, David Deutchman — aka the “ICU grandpa” — cuddled babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and played with ailing toddlers as a volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. His efforts to help overwhelmed parents and sick children went viral several years ago; people loved hearing about his kindness toward others when they needed it most.

Deutchman died at age 86 on Nov. 14, just two and a half weeks after being diagnosed with with stage IV pancreatic cancer. His family can’t believe he’s gone, but they say they know his legacy will live on for years to come.

“Volunteering absolutely enriched his life,” Deutchman’s daughter, Susan Lilly, 55, of Telluride, Colorado, told NBC’s TODAY Parents. “The most meaningful part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families.”

David Deutchman. (Courtesy Mary Beth Brulotte)
David Deutchman. (Courtesy Mary Beth Brulotte) (Copyright 2020 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

“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.”

Deutchman began volunteering after he retired from a career in marketing. He found that he had too much free time and wanted to keep busy. One day, he was at a nearby rehab facility when he saw Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and popped in to see if he could volunteer. After some training, his second act as “ICU grandpa” began. While families often sought him out because he was so popular, he felt as if he was the one who gained the most from his time there.

“He said, on many on many occasions, ‘I don’t know how much people realize how much more I get out of this than what I put in,’” Lilly said. “(He’d say) ‘You know, I get feedback from families how much they appreciate me, but I appreciate them.’”

Deutchman loved holding the babies or playing with the older children, his daughter said. He understood that exhausted parents and families benefited from knowing he was there.

“The emotional support he was able to provide for primarily mothers, but also many of the fathers and extended family members, brothers, sisters, grandmas, grandpas, (was important). He was almost like a clergy member or a social worker,” Lilly said. “Even the nurses confided in him.”

Volunteering inspired and motivated him.