Inside the neonatal intensive care unit at Medical City Alliance in Fort Worth, premature babies, like Oliver Chacon, snuggle with an eight-armed, colorful stuffed octopus as part of their treatment.
The hospital is partnering with "Octopus for a Preemie - US," an organization that provides premature baby patients with a hand-crocheted octopus, which neonatologists say is a form of therapy.
"It's kind of like a finger or umbilical cord. He likes to hold my hand, so this is something he can wrap his hand around," Oliver's father, Chad Chacon, said about the octopus.
The carefully crafted octopuses are made specifically to help NICU babies heal faster, allowing babies to go home to their families sooner, according to Keri Spillman, NICU nurse and project coordinator for the Octopus for a Preemie program at Medical City Alliance.
The idea originated in Denmark, where doctors observed that the crocheted octopuses calmed patients.
"They discovered babies really responded well. The tentacles felt more like mom's umbilical cord. Our little babies are very sensitive to light, sounds and touch, so having something that reminds them of mom really helps calm them down," Spillman said.
According to the medical team, researchers found that babies experienced higher levels of oxygen in their blood and more regular heartbeats. In addition, babies with these cuddly octopuses were less likely to pull on the monitors and tubes providing 24/7 monitoring, assisting in breathing and the administration of critical medications.
Volunteers spend hours crocheting the cuddly toys, making them extra special.
"These are 100-percent volunteer. There is no exchange of money. This is out of the goodness of people's hearts," Spillman said.
"It's wonderful that people are doing it. Never ceases to amaze me that people are doing wonderful things," Chad Chacon said.