Volunteer grandmother `made all the difference'

June 19, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Anne Bock waited a long time for grandchildren.

Although she never had children of her own, she is a grandmother in every sense of the word.

How can that be?

It's simple.

When the neonatal intensive care unit at Franklin Square Hospital Center called requesting a "rocker," Bock responded. No, it wasn't a singer they were requesting, but a baby rocker.

The caller, neonatologist Melinda Elliott, said the result was miraculous.

What happened next earned Bock the respect and admiration of everyone in the NICU, and it landed her a permanent spot as a NICU rocker and a Channel 13 Hometown Hero award.

Elliott set the scene for her initial rocker request.

"This little preemie boy named Justin was just not thriving," said Elliott. "He was up for adoption and he wasn't receiving any visitors. He was born at St. Joseph's but his adopted parents lived in Louisiana and visited when they could. But he had to be in the NICU for a long time, and they couldn't stay with him all the time. He just wasn't getting enough attention. So I called volunteer services to see if someone could come and just visit with the baby and rock him for a few minutes once in a while."

Elliott said she believes firmly that human contact plays an important role in the life of a baby who isn't thriving. Bock proved her right.

When Bock met the little boy, whom she described as a "little handful-sized baby," it was love at first sight.

"Anne started visiting this baby three to four times a week, for hours at a time," said Elliott. "He immediately turned around and thrived. It was so amazing to watch this baby start to thrive and grow, and I believe it was Anne who made all the difference. She's so wonderful, and she's everyone's favorite person."

According to Elliott, Bock became a surrogate grandmother to the baby, and to many others since then.

"She makes a commitment to these babies just like a good grandmother would," said Elliott. "She loves them as if they were her own. The first baby, Justin, is 7 now, and has since then moved to Louisiana with his adopted parents. They send Bock letters and cards and photos of the boy. I mean, they stay in close contact with her. She is truly a surrogate grandmother."

Why does she do it? She says a love for children is the driving force.

"I worked with Justin from April to July," said Bock. "I held him. I talked to him. I cooed and smiled at him. I loved him. I took care of him as much as I could and felt privileged to be allowed to spend that time with him. I loved it, and I think he did, too. I helped him get a good start on life. That makes me feel so good. Like I make a difference. He doesn't remember me, but I remember him."

Even though this was her first experience with babies in the NICU, it was not Bock's first experience with babies.

Grandma Anne, as she has been affectionately dubbed at Franklin Square, got her start with babies by volunteering in the maternity ward at North Hudson Hospital in her New Jersey neighborhood. Bock lived in New Jersey and commuted to work at the 34th Street branch of CitiBank in New York, where she was bank manager for 35 years.

"I chose the nursery to volunteer in because I love children," Bock said. "I love being around babies; they never complain. They just want and need love."

When she retired from the bank, she found herself alone and with a lot of free time on her hands.

Her brother, Charles, and his family lived in Maryland and insisted she come here to live near them.

When she got here, she was faced with the same problem: She still had a lot of free time. She quickly decided she would go back to volunteering. Because she lives about a mile from Franklin Square, she thought it would be a perfect match. That was 25 years ago, and she's going stronger than ever.

"When I got to Franklin Square, I knew I didn't want to go to the regular floors," said Bock. "There was an opening in the nursery. I spent about 18 years doing that until they called asking for help in the NICU about seven years ago."

Since then, babies have filled her days and her heart.

The hardest part for Bock is not finding the time to be with the babies; it's finding the strength to say goodbye.

"I try to come in the day the babies are scheduled to leave," said Bock. "If not, I come in the day before. I get quite attached to them.

"I give the baby a little smooch and I tell them I love them and that I'll never forget them, and I don't."

Bock has about 15 "grandchildren" to remember.

According to Charlotte Schoberlein, administrative coordinator for volunteer services, Bock always comes in whenever someone is needed in the NICU.

"She never says no," said Schoberlein. "She really cares about these babies, and she's always willing to help them."

Bock volunteers Fridays as a receptionist at the Cancer Institute and remains on call for the NICU. She said she wants to give help where it is needed, but her heart is always with the babies.

Bock said her greatest reward in volunteering is helping the babies and watching them grow.

But that did not lessen her excitement when she received the Channel 13 Hometown Heroes Award.

"I think the award is wonderful," Bock said, holding her volunteer jacket out to show her gold "13" brooch. "I really appreciate it, but it's not why I do this. I just love being with the babies."

When asked if she plans to stop anytime soon, Bock said, "Oh, no! I can't imagine not being with the babies."

And the staff in the NICU can't imagine it, either.

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