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UC Health benefits from the generosity of 6,000 volunteers

From answering phones to assisting women giving birth, more than 6,000 volunteers lend their services to the UC Health system.

Roger Whistler (pictured at left) embodies this good Samaritan spirit. The retired building inspector has volunteered for 18 years in UC San Diego’s neonatal intensive care unit as a cuddler. He holds premature babies when their parents can’t be there, freeing the nurses to do other tasks. The tender touch of this grandfather of 12 and great-grandfather of nine has calmed thousands of newborns.

“Each baby is a little different,” Whistler said. “You have to adapt yourself to what makes them feel most comfortable.”

UC Health volunteers help with patient care, companionship and even pet therapy. There are four-legged providers of pet therapy and two-legged providers of art therapy, all generously giving their time to improve patient care.

There are celebrities such as pop star Justin Bieber, whose visits to Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA have brought smiles to sick children, and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who has volunteered at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital to offer patients music as medicine.

There are burn center survivors like Chris Wilkins, treated at UC Irvine for a rare condition where he lost nearly all his skin, who return to provide support to new burn victims. “It’s a very scary thing to go through,” said Wilkins of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which affects about one in 1 million people. “It’s been a good thing to be able to help as much as I can.”

There are cancer survivors like Suzanne Mink who coach newly diagnosed cancer patients at UC Davis. “We don’t try to fix, we simply understand,” Mink said.

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