Vietnam Veteran now cuddles babies in the NICU

A Vietnam veteran has spent the last 9 years as a volunteer "cuddler" giving critical attention to vulnerable preemies when their parents cannot be with them around the clock.

CREVE COEUR, Mo. – At Mercy Children's Hospital, they know nothing is as healing as the human touch.

Ron Hollon, 74, is a grandfather but the baby in his arms is not his grandson.

Hollon is part of Mercy's Cuddlers program. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he volunteers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, holding preemies and helping nurses.

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"You can almost sense the babies feeling the love and the care," Mercy nurse Julia Wieman said. "I think it makes a big difference in their development."

"When they first come out, they're just a miracle of birth and I never get over that," Hollon said with a smile.

You can find soft spots on the toughest guys.

Hollon is a Vietnam veteran. Before working at Ford Motor Company and as an administrator for a non-profit, he spent four years in the Army, earning the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

But he's served here, on the second floor of Mercy for the last nine years, helping out anxious moms like Heather Roush.

"It tugs at your heartstrings," Roush told us.

Her son Toby's first breath, 8 months ago, took her breath away. He was born at 23 weeks, before his lungs could fully develop and he's been in the NICU ever since. She'd be here all day and all night if she didn't have to go to work.

"Knowing that there's a cuddler that can come in, get 'em out, interact with them, make them smile and happy. It's just an amazing feeling," said Roush.

The Cuddlers at Mercy are specially trained by neonatal physicians, nurses and therapists. They provide comfort in the chaos.

"We occasionally have withdrawal babies," Hollon recalled. "If they're really fussy and I'm challenged to get them quiet and settled down, I really enjoy seeing them settle down."

By some estimates, Ron has cuddled these precious babies for more than 8000 hours and he's enjoyed every second.

"It's just very rewarding," he said.

Two arms and a big heart. A hospital volunteer giving new meaning to the word gentleman.