On November 14, the 86-year-old grandpa died following his stage IV pancreatic cancer battle.
The elderly man who spent almost 15 years cradling premature and ill babies at the neonatal intensive care unit has tragically passed away. David Deutchman, who was popularly known as "ICU Grandpa," was a volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia. He would play with ailing toddlers in an attempt to comfort them when their overwhelmed parents could not. His kindness towards those in need touched everyone, resulting in his going viral about three years ago. But on November 14, the 86-year-old grandpa died following his stage IV pancreatic cancer battle. His family, who still can't believe that their beloved David is gone, revealed they hardly had any time to prepare themselves as he passed away just two-and-a-half weeks following his cancer diagnosis. However, they know in their hearts that his legacy will live on for years.
"Volunteering absolutely enriched his life," said Deutchman's daughter Susan Lilly, while speaking with TODAY Parents. "The most meaningful part was the actual time he spent with these patients and their families." The 55-year-old from Telluride, Colorado, continued, "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."
The late grandpa used to work in international business marketing before his retirement, reports The Independent. Thus after retiring, Deutchman began looking for something that would keep him busy and help those who really needed it. One day while visiting a rehab facility for a running injury, he saw Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and decided to pop in to see if they needed any volunteers. After receiving some training, he began his second act as "ICU Grandpa" volunteering at the hospital's pediatric unit and NICU on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Deutchman was quite content with his new role, which involved cradling fragile infants when parents needed a break. "It's been wonderful because it gives me something to do that has meaning to it," he told ABC News previously. "Every day I drive in here, I don't know which kids and parents I'm going to meet and what the issues will be and how can I help. It's been wonderful for me." The 86-year-old, who cherished his work, explained how some failed to fathom why he voluntarily did it. "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," he added.
Shortly after his popularity rose, Deutchman became a sought-after volunteer but felt that he was the one who benefited the most from spending time 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,'" Lilly told TODAY. "(He’d say) 'You know, I get feedback from families how much they appreciate me, but I appreciate them.'" She revealed that Deutchman adored the babies and loved holding them. He also enjoyed playing with the older kids.
"It's been wonderful because it gives me something to do that has meaning to it." David Deutchman earned the name NICU grandpa for his demeanor and loving embrace. Now he needs our love as he faces stage IV pancreatic cancer. Share a message and I'll pass along! 📸@childrensatl https://t.co/WcoU2IGEW4 pic.twitter.com/IWXiGp4jCt— Liza Lucas 11Alive (@LizaLLucas) November 10, 2020
He shouldered the responsibility with utmost grace and understood just how much his services helped exhausted families and parents. "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," Lily shared. "Even the nurses confided in him." He would often keep tabs on the patients and their families and would attempt to visit them if they returned to the hospital. "He would go back (to the hospital) even if it wasn't during one of his days that he volunteered — especially if they had to have a certain procedure," said Lilly. "He would go in and hold their hands or hold them."
After he turned 85 in November last year, he thought about retiring from the volunteer position he loved. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, he stopped his work as it was put on hold. Shortly after his devastating diagnosis, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta arranged a parade to raise the spirits of Deutchman and his family. "We appreciate the outpouring of support," said Lilly, who has decided to follow in the footsteps of her father and become a volunteer emergency medical technician. "Anyone can have a purpose at any stage of their lives. It was maybe surprising to him just how much he got out of this. Volunteerism and being of service to others is deeply rewarding," she added. Deutchman is survived by his wife Ronnie, daughters Susan Lilly and Jill Susan Lilly and Jill, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.