EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Carl Magnussen is a retiree and grandfather with a lot of love to give.
"My grandson is a year old and I love holding him, but he lives in Nashville," Magnussen said.
Enter the "cuddling program" at Evanston Hospital: Magnussen, 67, spends two hours at the hospital every Monday doing exactly what his title says, cuddling babies in the hospital's Infant Special Care Unit. He is the first male volunteer to participate in the hospital's program.
The program is designed to bring an extra set of hands into the unit to offer comfort to sick babies, many of whom are premature and hospitalized for weeks or months before they can go home.
Six-month-old Xavi Cronin is one of those babies. A twin, she was born two months premature and with underdeveloped lungs. Her sister was able to go home, causing mom Elizabeth to split her time between home and the hospital.
"The doctors and nurses have been amazing, but to have that extra security of knowing somebody is in caring for your child and giving them one-on-one attention and comfort. I couldn't be more grateful for that," she said of Magnussen's volunteer services.
Laura Hehmann, the nursing clinical coordinator at Evanston Hospital, said cuddlers undergo training and only tend to babies whose parents have expressed a desire to have them do so.
Cuddling has proven to have medical benefits, Hehmann said.
"It helps decrease stress for the baby with a therapeutic touch of someone just holding them, as well as talking quietly can help soothe the babies," she said. "They will calm down and you see their vital signs stabilize. They oxygenate better. All these factors we see not only by observing the baby, but also by looking at the monitors."
As it turns out, cuddling benefits the cuddler as well.
"It's almost meditative. It's so relaxing," Magnussen said. "You sit back and watch the baby, like, settle down after about 15 minutes and they fall asleep. It's awesome."
There are volunteer baby cuddling programs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Rush University Medical Center and various NorthShore University HealthSystem hospitals. Check with your local hospital for information.