When Shariya Small gave birth to triplets at an Indianapolis hospital in 2020, no one seemed to pay much attention to the teen mom — until neonatal nurse Katrina Mullen came along.
Small, then 14-years-old and in eighth grade, gave birth to premature triplets: Serenitee, Samari and Sarayah. She watched over her babies as they spent more than five months in a neonatal care unit (NICU) at an Indianapolis hospital, according to "Today."
"She’d be there alone for days at a time sitting at her babies’ bedside," Mullen told the news outlet.
Small was quiet at first but eventually warmed up to Mullen after the 45-year-old shared that she had also been a teen mom. The pair bonded, and Mullen — who has five kids ranging from ages 7 to 23, three of whom still live with her — told Small to call her for support anytime.
After staying in touch with Small, Mullen eventually visited her home in Kokomo, Indiana, where she lived with a relative. There, Mullen noticed that Small was sleeping on a couch while her three children slept in a playpen and that one of the babies, Samari, looked very small for his age. He was soon hospitalized and diagnosed with failure to thrive (a condition related to inadequate nutrition), which became a concern of the Department of Social Services (DSS).
A case worker from DSS reached out to Mullen to let her know that Small and the triplets were being removed from their living situation. But instead of going to a foster home, Small asked to live with Mullen — who agreed.
"I knew Shariya was intelligent and resilient and she just needed a safe place to put her roots," Mullen told "Today." "I knew it would be hard, but we’d figure it out."
After fostering Small and her triplets for nearly two years, Mullen officially adopted her and the now 2-year-old babies in February. Since Small moved in with Mullen, she’s graduated from an alternative high school and plans to attend college to pursue a career in social work. Serenitee, Samari and Sarayah — who Small raises with support from Mullen — are also thriving.
Katrina Mullen / GoFundMe
To help support Small and her babies, Mullen also started a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $106,000.
"I’m so proud to be Shariya’s mom," Mullen told "Today." "She just amazes me every day."
This story originally appeared on Simplemost.