by Dennis Dalman
Two newborn babies, Ruby and Jack, continue to warm the hearts of residents and staff at Country Manor in Sartell.
Residents hold the babies, feed the babies, burp the babies, coo at the babies.
The babies, however, are not real. They are dolls. But they are dolls so lifelike that people who see them always do a double-take, wondering how in the world could a doll take on the very looks and essence of a genuine flesh-and-blood baby.
Jack and Ruby, as the dolls have been named, are at the center of many therapy sessions, especially for people experiencing memory loss. For years, nursing homes have noticed the salutary effects children and dogs have in interactions with elderly residents. Such interactions can actually decrease blood pressure and boost good emotions. Those same positive results happen when Rudy and Jack are brought into a room.
At a recent session with three female residents, the two babies were the center of attention.
“Oh, they’re just great,” said Peg Maurer, as a therapist handed her Ruby to hold.
Maurer’s face beamed with delight as she held the baby, complete with bonnet and pacifier.
“So cute,” Maurer said, smiling down at the baby’s face.
Similar reactions occurred when the others took turns holding Jack and Ruby.
“Precious” said Lila Fasen, smiling radiantly.
Fasen’s husband, Alvin, who is also a Country Manor resident, sat in his wheelchair near his wife. Then it was his turn to hold Ruby.
“She’s a keeper,” he said. “I think I’ll take her home.”
Resident Dell Bialke reached out to hold one of the babies. Then she smiled and made cooing sounds.
“What a sweetheart,” she said.
Even though the residents know Jack and Ruby are just dolls, their amazing lifelike looks are like instant memory triggers to their own babies they held and nurtured many years ago.
Shawn Galloway, director of therapeutic recreation, said the dolls have stunned staff with how effective they are as therapy enhancers. They have an instant calming, relaxing effect on residents who see or hold them, Galloway said. The dolls also tend to open up residents, the way buds bloom into flowers, so sometimes clammed-up people will begin to talk, to remember, to share thoughts and feelings – even to sing. One woman, holding a doll, began to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to the “baby.”
One of the daughters of a resident at Country Manor was so astonished by the positive changes she noticed in her mother she told staff she is going to order another doll that can be enjoyed by all residents.
Galloway is the one who started the doll therapy. It has been such an unqualified success, the program will be expanded – with two more dolls.
Jacqui Hartman, volunteer coordinator, said the dolls are “amazing mood enhancers” that can give a sense of value and belonging to those who hold them.
“The staff gets enjoyment from the dolls, too,” she said. “It’s a communal thing. There is so much positive energy going on.”
Jack and Ruby are just two of the many dolls created by Daryl and Cindy Lindbloom of St. Joseph whose at-home business is called “Loving Hearts Nursery.” During a trip out East, the Lindblooms stopped at a doll market and saw some incredibly lifelike dolls that astonished them. Later, they did some research and decided to make some of the dolls themselves. The process is highly technical, a virtual art form that combines vinyl, sculpture, delicate painting and all kinds of fine-tuning so that each “baby” is completely unique, just like a real baby. The Lindblooms, whose goal in doll-making is to bring comfort to people, custom-make the dolls for mothers whose children have died, for nursing homes and for doll collectors.
They make premature babies, infants and toddlers. It takes 30 to 40 hours to make a baby doll.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.