LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - 26 years ago was one of the happiest years of Karen Wilson's life, but also one of the scariest.
That is when she learned that her newborn son, Brance Wilson, had partially developed lungs.
She watched him be hooked up to an ECMO machine at University Medical Center, which acted like an artificial lung and pumped oxygen into his bloodstream.
It was one of only two machines in Texas at the time, and the reason Brance is alive today.
He is now a pharmacist who is about to get married, and his success makes Wilson want to give back to the hospital that saved her son's life by volunteering for a unique club.
The Cuddle Club is trained volunteers who hold, feed and rock infants being treated in the neo-natal intensive care unit.
"That skin-to-skin touch is so very important, and it helps the baby grow," said Pam Lackey, director of the UMC NICU. "I see contentment when they're being held by that volunteer, and just a sort of settling in and being loved by that volunteer."
Wilson has come in every Friday to volunteer her time with The Cuddle Club for two years now.
"Mom can't be here all the time or a family member can't be here all the time," she said, "and so that baby needs that touch. It needs that extra loving that they can get from The Cuddle Club, and I just feel honored I get to do that for them. And I hope that the parents think that somebody, that their baby isn't just lying there all day, which they don't, but that somebody is there to rock and feed if they're not there."
Her experience with Brance has prepared her for this volunteer position, Wilson said.
"I know what the tubes, what the numbers mean on the monitors and things like that," she said. "Every once in a while, I'll see parents in here that just have that look on their face, that you know, their world has just been turned upside down and I can relate to that. So if I get the chance to, I'll go and tell them, 'Hey, this is a good place, they do great things here. You know, he or she is in good hands.'"
Wilson will never forget the feeling of when Brance was in the NICU, and wants to help anyone going through the same stressful experience.
"I love holding the babies," she said, "but if I get to talk to a parent also, then that's just a double blessing for me on that day."
She said she encourages anyone with extra time to consider volunteering with The Cuddle Club to show an infant in need love and affection at a critical point in their life.
"This was my opportunity to help out a little bit where I could," she said, "and it's something that I love to do, and hopefully it's a blessing to the families that I come in contact with."