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'ICU Grandpa' who spent nearly 15 years cuddling babies in the neonatal ICU, succumbs to cancer

Deutchman died on Saturday at the age of 86 just days after being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.

'ICU Grandpa' who spent nearly 15 years cuddling babies in the neonatal ICU, succumbs to cancer
Cover Image Source: Dignity Memorial

David Deutchman spent over a decade of his life cuddling newborns and playing with ailing kids in an Atlanta intensive care hospital. His efforts to help overwhelmed parents and sick infants in the neonatal intensive care unit had a lasting impact on their families and touched the hearts of everyone who heard about his kindness. Sadly, the era of the 'ICU Grandpa' — as he was lovingly known — came to an end on November 14, Saturday, when Deutchman died at the age of 86 just days after being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.


Deutchman's family confirmed the news, reports 11Alive, with his daughter Susan Lilly writing: "It is with our deepest sadness that my sister Jill and I share that our sweet father David Deutchman passed away at home Saturday afternoon, 17 days after being diagnosed with metastatic Stage IV Pancreatic cancer. Mom, Jill, and I were by his side. We all already miss him terribly and always will." News of Deutchman's death comes just a week after Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where he volunteered for many years, disclosed on social media that the retired international business marketing executive had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.


"In 2017 this photo of David Deutchman, our 'ICU Grandpa,' touched the hearts of millions of people all over the world," the hospital captioned an image of the retiree holding a newborn. "Last week, our teams learned David has stage IV pancreatic cancer. To honor this hospital legend, who has spent nearly 15 years tending to little ones in our intensive care units, our staff organized a drive-by parade outside of his home. Led by one of our NICU transport trucks, a procession of nearly 30 cars—some carrying Children’s employees, some carrying patients who had been soothed by David many years ago—honked, waved, and shared well wishes as his family gathered in 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 added. "In the words of David’s grandkids, 'We didn’t know everyone passing by, but we felt so connected to them. All the kids he’s cared for and the employees he’s formed friendships with—he loves them like they were his own. And we felt that same love from them today.'"


"Volunteering absolutely enriched his life," Lilly told TODAY Parents. "The most meaningful part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families. 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. 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. You know, I get feedback from families how much they appreciate me, but I appreciate them.'" 


Deutchman began volunteering at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta after he retired from a career in marketing in 2005. With too much free time on his hands, he wanted to keep busy and popped into the hospital one day to see if he could volunteer. Following some training, he took on the role of the 'ICU Grandpa' and became so popular that families began asking for him to comfort their babies. Deutchman loved holding the babies or playing with the older children, said Lilly, as 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," said the 55-year-old of Telluride, Colorado. "Even the nurses confided in him. This was definitely a new purpose for him and something that absolutely enriched his life. It brought us great pleasure to see him having that impact. Why not share his love with people who could use it at their most vulnerable times?"

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