Fayetteville man brings hope, love to pediatric patients

Matt Byrne has the face of an angel, and for many, he is heaven sent. Byrne is the longest running volunteer in the pediatric unit at University Hospital in Syracuse. He's been there 11 years and counting.

"My goal is 40," he said, laughing gently.

The Fayetteville resident and established Syracuse lawyer began his volunteer efforts with a phone call. He always knew he wanted to help others.

"It's just a gift I've been given," he said. "I enjoy children and they seem to enjoy me, and so you hate to not take advantage of the gift."

Byrne repeatedly said he has the best job in the hospital, which is providing diversion, comfort and care to sick children anywhere from a few days old to 18 years of age. Once a week, he blocks a chunk of his own time and heads to the hospital for a day of fun -- and the children always look forward to seeing his face.

Byrne said his role is to distract kids from their daily routine. In doing so, they enjoy reading, talking, laughing or simply hugging when needed.

"Each child is different," he said. "We always have fun. Some of them are lonely, some are upset. It's no fun being sick. It's no fun being away from home. So we do things to keep them busy, take their mind off their troubles.

Kara Judd-Litera, certified child life specialist and Byrne's immediate supervisor, said she often refers to Byrne as the "baby whisperer."

"He is such a calming presence with the infants," she said. "He also has an exceptional reading and storytelling voice, which always entertains."

Pivotal moments

Byrne's long-standing role at the hospital enables him to witness countless outcomes -- some joyful, some tragic. One boy in particular stands out in his mind and he reluctantly told the decade-old story.

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