Retiree's cuddling critical for sick children, parents

An 80-year-old Ottawa man dedicates his time to providing hugs, words and every little piece of comfort to sick children to help them and their parents cope during a difficult time at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Bob Parry, 80, spent last 18 years helping families whose children have long hospital stays

Cuddler helps sick babies

10 years ago
Duration 2:10
An 80-year-old Ottawa man helps fill a void for parents of ill infants, with his hugs and comfort.

A retired 80-year-old man is dedicating his time to helping families care for their sick children, which parents say allows them to breathe a little easier during a very difficult time.

Bob Parry says he started volunteering at Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario 18 years ago.

Parry had just retired from his career as an accountant, but it was his 18-month-old grandson who attracted him to an entirely different activity.

The toddler was admitted to CHEO with a benign tumour in his forehead, piquing Parry's interest in the work of volunteer cuddlers.

"You're sort of a stand-in for the parent," Parry said, "Just go and pick up the child, or comfort the child, just make friends with the child and let him or her know [they're] in good hands."

Parents said Parry's work is a big help when their baby is in pain, or facing a medical battle when each parent wants to be with their child every second.

Ashley Judge's two-year-old daughter, Alenka, has been in Parry's care for the past three weeks. He holds her, rocks her and gives her the human touch when parents need a short break.

Parents get vital extra moments to themselves

For Judge, who is pregnant and has two other children, every second to herself is vital.

"I very rarely have a moment to myself. He makes me be able to eat during the day, or use the washroom if i need to," she said.

"Those are things people take for granted until you see that you actually really need help when you're in a place like this."

Parry divides his time to help many different children in the hospital. He knows his work requires helping parents and distracting the children from all the doctors' visits and tests.

"I feel that sometimes I can drive home and know that, for a short time, I made a difference in that little one's life," he said.

"It's a good feeling."