A Very Special Journey to Volunteering

Posted on: November 27th, 2018

Women Who Inspire – A Florida Hospital for Women Series 

Karen Kaczmarek has only been in Central Florida three years, but she has found a very special way to give back to the community as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) “cuddler” — a volunteer who gives love and gentle hugs to the tiniest babies. Nurturing that is vital to their survival and development.

My daughter, who is now 22, was born at 22 weeks and is a NICU grad — a term I only recently learned. It was the scariest thing. I was in my second trimester and had gone to England for a cousin’s wedding. I had gotten the clearance from my doctors to go. The day I came back I started spotting and when I called my doctor, they said I should get checked out. When I did they discovered she was already coming,” Karen says.

At that time, in Ohio where Karen was living, it was up to the neonatologist to decide whether to try and save a baby less than 24 weeks. Often babies were left to pass away peacefully if the doctor thought they would ultimately not survive. Of Karen’s two doctors, one was leaning one way and one was leaning the other. Luckily, the last doctor Karen saw was inclined to see if the baby would survive.

Karen’s daughter, the youngest of three children, is now thriving as a senior at Stetson University. “Back then we didn’t have ‘cuddlers.’ The nurses took on that role and every chance they got, they took her out of the Isolette and held her to feed her. So, she got that warmth and love,” she explains. Karen says her daughter had no medical issues following the harrowing birth experience, although she had been warned that compromised eyesight and cerebral palsy were possibilities.

Karen has a background in nursing and was looking for a position in Orlando. Intimated by jumping back in as a hospital floor nurse, she did some contract nursing — even giving flu shots at schools.

Then she found what she was looking for — a rewarding way to give back. “When I heard about the cuddler program at Florida Hospital it was a calling to me. I wanted to be able to do what was done for my daughter with other babies. Maybe I can make a nurse’s shift a little easier by feeding a baby while they attend to one who is sicker. It makes such a difference and it’s such a nice feeling,” she adds.  

Neonatal Intensive Care Infant Cuddlers at Florida Hospital for Children provide affection, love and warmth to patients and families in the NICU as well as assisting staff with daily tasks as needed. “Volunteering there actually makes my blood pressure go down. It’s good karma and when I walk out, I am in a better mood,” she says. Karen, a new grandmother, currently cuddles one day a week and is looking for even more opportunities to help sick children.

To learn more about volunteering at Florida Hospital for Children, contact Volunteer Services at 407-303-5600 ext. 1106392 or visit floridahospitalforchildren.com.



One call to Florida Hospital for Women’s Health Navigator Doreen Forsythe, BSN, RN, can help you coordinate all your health care. Florida Hospital for Women understands the intricate role women play in their family’s healthcare decisions and needs. Doreen is a specially trained registered nurse who is available to help women access Florida Hospital’s extensive network of services across Central Florida. This coordination specialist not only provides expert, clinical assistance, but also helps manage your overall care and identifies ways to speed up the process of scheduling physician appointments and procedures. The health navigator acts as your personal advocate — creating a seamless healthcare experience that focuses on health, wellness, hospitality and convenience. 

As a registered nurse, Doreen has been a valued member of the Florida Hospital team since 2001. Graduating from Villanova University in Pennsylvania, she has more than 15 years of experience in multiple nursing disciplines includ-ing cardiology, neurology, surgery and nursing education. No matter what kind of women’s health services you need, Doreen can connect you with the right doctors and resources to ensure you receive the best treatment available. This complimentary service is available to all women. 

To speak to Doreen, or to schedule an appointment, call 407- 720-5191.