Indiana grandpa rocks sick babies to health in NICU at Riley Hospital

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A retired grandfather is taking the health of babies in the NICU into his own hands.

Tom Stadler has volunteered in the NICU at Riley Children's Health every Thursday for the past four years.

"I love all the little kids here," said Stadler. "I guess I just love little babies."

Before retiring, Stadler was the band director at Mt. Vernon Schools for 36 years. After his retirement, he started volunteering at Riley Children's Health and has been a volunteer at the hospital for nearly 15 years.

"When they're squirming a little bit, it makes me feel really good to be able to calm them down and have them fall asleep in my arms," said Stadler.

Meredith Murray is a certified child life specialist at Riley Children's Health.

She said the special time Stadler spends with patients in the NICU is invaluable.

"When a family has a child that is hospitalized, whether that's an infant or an older child, often their lives are turned upside down for a period of time," said Murray.

Murray said volunteers like Stadler are making an impact not only to the lives of babies in the NICU, but to their families.

"One of the most impactful things is to hear families' gratitude and thankfulness for the volunteers and the role that they play when they can't be here at the bedside all the time," said Murray.

Stadler said volunteer work with sick babies can be emotional at times, but he's blessed to do it.

"I leave at the end of the day and I just thank God every day driving home that I have the opportunity to come and hold the little ones who just need love and affection," said Stadler.

The process to become a volunteer in the NICU takes anywhere from six months to a year. There's currently a waiting list.

To learn more about volunteering at Riley Children's Health, click here. 

*Mateo Luna is the NICU patient pictured in this story. He's seven months old and was born in February weighing just 2 lbs., 2 oz.

Stadler has spend Thursdays with Mateo for the past month and Mateo's nurses said he will likely be going home very soon!

In a written statement, Mateo's mother, Maria Trejo said,

"It's really hard. I have to divide my time and my heart in two. I am very grateful for the volunteers ever since I found out about the volunteer program. I am calm at home knowing they are taking my place."