An Indiana neonatal nurse adopted a 14-year-old girl and her premature triplets, after she treated them as patients in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) two years ago.
Katrina Mullen, 45, a 23-year veteran nurse, told Today that then 8th grader, Shariyah Small, was curiously unaccompanied by any family members as she sat at the bedsides of her three premature babies.
The two girls and one boy, Serenitee, Sarayah and Samari, were born dangerously early at 26 weeks, and had to stay in the Indianapolis’ Community Hospital North’s NICU for more than five months.
Mullen noticed that Small was always visiting her children, who weighed less than two pounds each at birth, alone and never had any food with her.
Small was initially reluctant to share details about her home life, but Mullen “never judged” and patiently waited for teen to open up, while teaching her vital skills for taking care of newborns.
The NICU nurse said that “something shifted” and they “developed trust,” when she shared that she had also been a teen mom.
“I would go sit in the office with her and talk about basically anything,” Smalls told the Indy Star.
“I would tell her some of my secrets, and she talked to me about her experiences with being a teen mom. That’s one of the things we clicked on while I was in the hospital.”
When the babies were discharged, Small remained tight lipped about her living situation, but Mullen told her that she would be there if the teen mom needed anything, even if it was just to ask a question or talk.
Small took her up on the offer and Facetimed frequently. “I’d help her when she was crying and overwhelmed. I couldn’t fix it, but I would listen and support her and be like, ‘You can do this,’” Mullen remarked.
But the calls made her “increasingly concerned” about the girl’s support system, and she made the two hour trek to Kokomo, Indiana, where Small was crashing with a relative.
Mullen sent functional gifts and commuted to see the little family so often, that colleagues started referring to Small as her “adopted daughter,” and would frequently ask if she had brought the triplets home yet.
Mullen knew that Small’s living situation “was not a place for her to raise babies,” and noticed that Samari was underweight and covered in a rash.
When he was admitted to the hospital for failure to thrive, she cared for the two girls for a few days at her own home, where she was raising three of her own kids as well.
The local hospital contacted the Indiana Department of Child Services while Samari was being treated.
A social worker concurred with Mullen’s assessment that the home was not adequate, and that all three children and their mother would need to be placed in foster care.
Mullen said that her experience as a nurse gave her the knowledge that it was unlikely a single placement would be able to take in all four of them, so she agreed to foster the family.
668 days later, she officially adopted all three 2-year-olds and their mother, who is now fifteen, on Feb. 6.
Under Mullen’s care, Small is graduating from a fast-tracked alternative high school, where she managed to pull an “A” average that got her accepted into two local colleges on academic scholarships.