Oh, baby! Dolls bring new life to nursing home

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A resident at a Kentucky facility holds her new baby
A resident at a Kentucky facility holds her new baby

This Valentine's Day, Sandy Cambron wasn't thinking about romantic love.

Instead, she did her best to rekindle parental love among dozens of memory-impaired residents at Kentucky's Park Terrace Health Campus — one lifelike baby doll at a time.

Cambron's mother-in-law, Pearl, died of Alzheimer's disease in 2008. She knew how much Pearl had loved caring for a “baby” in her final months, so she set out to share that experience with nursing home residents around Louisville.

When she delivered 28 babies — along with four plush puppies — to Park Terrace, she struck a nerve with others who had seen the joy a simple doll could bring a resident or loved one. Photos of residents cuddling the babies and cooing to them rocketed around the world via Facebook, People magazine and Today.com.

The pictures captured many of the facility's female residents smiling as they clutched at soft swaddling blankets and plastic baby bottles. A video showed one woman choosing a girl, then carefully considering names before settling on “Amber.”

“You keep her here, and she's gonna keep you company,” Cambron tells the woman, who has broken into an awestruck smile.

Another clip shows a male resident looking deep into the eyes of a stuffed hound dog, stroking its head contentedly. Some men ended up with both dogs and dolls, Cambron told People.

“We have been simply overwhelmed by the positive response we've received,” Park Terrace noted on its Facebook page, a few days after the delivery was coordinated by life enrichment director Susan Crider.

The mother of Cambron's co-worker lives in the skilled nursing facility's memory unit and was an earlier recipient. Cambron has focused her efforts on buildings with dedicated memory wings, where it's easier to get a head count and deliver a doll to each interested resident.

Cambron and her husband of 33 years, Wayne, had hoped to one day start a baby doll-delivering ministry. They both still work, and they set aside Wayne's overtime pay to buy the 28 babies for Park Terrace.

“We were going to save up and do it again,” Cambron told McKnight's.

Baring the cost will be easier now. As of Tuesday evening, a Go Fund Me page for Pearl's Memory Babies generated more than $8,100 — close but not quite to Cambron's goal of $10,000.


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