KETTERING — Gently, steadily and with a grandfather’s love, 70-year-old Dick Kirchner cradles the fussy newborns. They especially like the feel of his hands on their heads.
“I do the temple rub,” he said. “Touch and talk, touch and talk. They love to hear your voice, too.”
It sometimes takes a while to figure out what works best, to find the key embrace or motion or sound that helps to ease their terrible agitation. The tiny patients at Brigid’s Path, where Kirchner is a volunteer “cuddler,” come into the world dependent on the drugs their mothers used during pregnancy.
Even the most textbook withdrawal process isn’t easy.
“Everyone is different,” Kirchner said, switching chairs to accommodate a baby boy who seemed to want a different view. “You’ve got to feel them out to see what they need.”
The new infant recovery center in suburban Dayton — one of just two such centers nationwide — provides a quiet, homelike setting and private rooms for babies being treated for withdrawal. At the same time, Brigid’s Path offers guidance and support for their families, who participate in the care.
“We do a lot more hands-on work than hospitals,” said Jill Kingston, co-founder and executive director of the center. “It’s just a whole different level of comfort for both the baby and mom.”
So long as the infants are medically stable, they benefit from leaving hospital units, where the noise and bustle can assault their already-raw nervous systems. Babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome — the medical term for withdrawal symptoms suffered by newborns — are often irritable and anxious, prone to abdominal discomfort, tremors, difficulty sleeping and feeding, and inconsolable crying.
To see an infant overcome that rocky start and go home to a strengthened family is among the happiest occurrences in Ohio’s long-running battle with opioid addiction. Kirchner, known at Brigid’s Path as Grandpa Dick, also has seen the worst.
“I lost a grandson,” he said, eyes welling with tears. “Twenty-three years old. He accidentally overdosed.”
Comforting the babies doesn’t take away that pain, but it helps Kirchner look past it. “This is a place of hope,” he said.
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