What it takes to become a newborn cuddler at an Amarillo hospital

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR) — You could call them VICs: Very Important Cuddlers.

Seven days a week they’re providing much needed TLC to dozens of babies at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo. And you may think you have what it takes to be a cuddler, but while many are called, few are chosen.

Just a few love pats for little baby Amila. She’s nestled away, without a care in the world in the arms of Kay McKnight.

“You feel like you’re helping them because they need the human contact and they say they grow better and get healthier faster. But it does something for me too. You just could hold them all day and hug on them,” said McKnight, who has been a volunteer cuddler at the hospital for two years.

“Being at NICU where we do transport a lot of patients into the hospital, sometimes families are several hours away and have to go back and forth. And so that’s kind of where cuddling initially started, was to help families when they did have to go back,” said Becky Imel, Child-Life Specialist at Northwest Texas Hospital, who has been coordinating the cuddling program since 2004.

The program started with just one volunteer. Now they’re up to 20 cuddlers.

McKnight said it took a couple of years before she got the call to become a cuddler. “I feel special and it’s really a good job, best job I’ve ever had,” said McKnight.

But others are not so fortunate. There’s currently 60 people on a waiting list.

“We’re estimating our wait time of about seven to 10 years,” said Imel. One person has been waiting for eight years.

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