Aurora, CO - A “'cuddle patrol” started by police officers to help a very sick baby's parents ended up helping officers as much as the baby.
Grand Junction Police Officer Melissa Winch gave birth to her son, Axel Winch, prematurely at 29 weeks, well ahead of the normal 39-40 weeks that is considered full-term.
Axel was flown from Grand Junction to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora on Aug. 1, and has been treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the weeks and months since, according to KUSA.
“They let us know he had all sorts of issues genetically, physically to the point where the news was pretty devastating. He was in for probably a lifetime of issues medically. They’re still not sure what all of it is,” Axel’s father, Adam Winch, said.
"He’s completely a mystery baby to this NICU … It is world-class, still trying to figure it all out. There’s a lot of different theories, but they’re not sure exactly what it is yet,” he said.
Adam Winch is a former police officer who now owns his own business.
"Axel has died in our arms multiple times. His nurses have saved his life. We have watched miracle after miracle,” the new father said.
Both Adam and Melissa Winch eventually had to go back to work. Officer Winch described leaving Axel as "heartbreaking."
"The first time we left, I cried not all the way home, but majority of the way home. It's terrible,” she said.
The Winches didn't want to leave Axel alone, and neither did their fellow police officers.
So the Aurora Police Department (APD) stepped into fill the gap.
“I didn't want him to be alone. [I] came up with the idea that we would set up basically a watch, that we would have officers sign up for times to come in here and spend time with Axel,” said Sergeant Mike Pitrusu, who is head of the APD’s Employee Support and Wellness unit.
"Somebody called it the cuddle watch. I don't know where that came from. I think we probably would've come with something tougher. We'll go with cuddle watch,” he said.
Sgt. Pitrusu estimated that 20 officers had cuddled with Axel at the hospital on the days that his parents couldn't be there.
This was not the first time that the APD has assisted the Winch family.
When members of the police department first learned in August that a fellow police officer's child was being treated at Children's Hospital, they stepped up to the plate.
Sworn and civilian APD employees visited Axel and his parents, and helped raise money to help with expenses. One detective had them stay in her home.
“I think it was a win-win for both Axel and the officers that came in here,” Sgt. Pitrusu said
All of the cuddling with Axel seems to have created a new problem. His mother said that he had become spoiled and wanted to be held all of the time.
“We don't know what the future holds yet, but right now he’s happy and healthy for us," Axel’s parents said.
The APD also has a new problem. Axel recently went home from the hospital, and the department's officers and civilian employees need another baby to cuddle.
"We almost need to set up a cuddle watch for Children’s Hospital, just give the opportunity to come in and take care of the little ones,” Sgt. Pitrusu said.