April 10, 2023

NICU Nurse Adopts Teen Mom With Triplets Who Were Her Patients

NICU Nurse Adopts Teen Mom With Triplets Who Were Her Patients

Image: Katrina Mullen, Shariya Small and her triplets

Nurses make a difference in their patients' lives. Registered Nurse Katrina Mullen, 45, on the other hand, was the literal guardian angel to a teen mom and her triplets. 

Shariya Small was 14 when she delivered triplets at only 26 weeks gestation in 2020. The triplets Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah, spent more than five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis.

Mullen cared for Small’s triplets on and off during their time. A single mom with three kids at home she tried to form a connection with Small for months. Often wondering why the young mom would come into the hospital by herself and would rarely eat during the long hours. 

“She’d be there alone for days at a time sitting at her babies’ bedside,” said Mullen.

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How The Nurse Built a Connection With Shariya

Mullen would help Small care for her kids, showing her how to change a diaper, change their outfits, and feed them. Small would help Mullen understand the world of TikTok and social media. Despite the countless hours spent together, it wasn’t until Mullen told the teen mom more about her own past that the barriers came down. 

“Something shifted after I told her that I was a teen mom,” Mullen said. “That’s when we really developed trust.” But Mullen never judged the teen mom, despite all preconceived notions. 

Once the triplets were ready for discharge, Mullen gave Small her cell and told her to call anytime if she had questions about the triplets or needed someone to talk to. Small and Mullen began texting and Facetiming regularly. 

“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. But I was becoming increasingly concerned about her support system. I couldn't figure out why she was calling me so often," said Mullen. 

Shariya's Story

Image: Shariya Small and her triplets

Mullen had a hunch that something was wrong. She drove to Kokomo, Indiana to visit Small on her day off. When Mullen arrived she noticed that Small was sleeping on the couch, and the triplets were sleeping in a playpen. Additionally, Small’s son, Samurai, was covered in worsening eczema and looked frail and malnourished. Samurai was admitted to the local hospital and diagnosed with failure to thrive (FTT). 

Small explained that the pediatrician had switched Samurai’s formula and despite the changes, he was still throwing up and losing weight. The hospital was required to call the Department of Social Services (DSS) amidst the home situation. 

“The caseworker said that Shariya and her babies were being removed from their home,” Mullen said. “And then she goes, ‘Shariya said she’d like to come live with you. Would you be willing?’”

“I knew it would be impossible to find a foster home that would take all four of them. No one was going to take a teen mom and her preemie triplets,” continued Mullen. “I just kept thinking, ‘I have to do this.' I knew Shariya was intelligent and resilient and she just needed a safe place to put her roots. I knew it would be hard, but we'd figure it out."

Without hesitation, Mullen agreed to take Small and the triplets home with her. But first, she needed to become a foster parent legally. Despite already having trained as a nurse, she needed to take the required classes to become certified. The community stepped in donating baby items and clothes for the young family. 

From Single Mother To Foster Care and Adoption

Image: Mullen and her sons, Small and her triplets

668 days after initially taking Small and her children in, Mullen officially adopted Small. During that time, Small graduated from an alternative high school and is now touring colleges. Small hopes to begin a career in social work. 

Mullen officially adopted Small on February 6th making her the grandmother of Small’s three children. 

“I’m so proud to be Shariya’s mom," Mullen said. “She just amazes me every day. When she’s frustrated with the babies, she never raises her voice. She’s just blossoming into this incredible woman.”

Image: Katrina Mullen, Shariya Small and her triplets


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