They brought their work home — literally.

Taylor and Drew Deras have a special place in their hearts for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Methodist Women’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.

Not only is it where they both work as registered nurses, but it’s also where they met and fell in love.

And now? It’s where they found their family too, adopting a little girl, Ella, who was once one of their patients.

On the Brink of Survival

Ella was only 1 pound, 2 ounces when she was born in May 2021. A micro-preemie, she was roughly the size of a mango.

Born months before her due date, at 23 weeks and one day, she faced a long stay in the NICU, and even then, her odds of survival were low. Knowing her complex health challenges, Taylor immediately signed up to be her consistent caregiver.

Unable to breathe on her own, Ella spent months on a ventilator.

“She was intubated for multiple months at a time,” Taylor told ABC News. “She was just very sick. There [were] times where the doctors would tell us, ‘Watch her. I don’t know if she’ll make it through the night tonight.'”

Miraculously Ella survived.

By the summer of 2021, Ella required less oxygen and was drinking from a bottle. Her biological mother, who was in her early twenties, started working more and visiting less. Unable to cope with Ella’s complex medical needs, eventually she just stopped visiting altogether.

In December 2021, Ella became a ward of the state.

Becoming Foster Parents to a Medically Fragile Child

By this time, Ella had spent eight months in the NICU and both Taylor and Drew had fallen in love with the tiny fighter. They both spent hours with her, holding her and reading to her.

Terrified about what would happen to the medically fragile girl in the foster system, the couple made a bold choice. They reached out to Ella’s social worker and asked to be her foster parents.

“When Ella’s biological mom heard we were interested in fostering, she said, ‘I want Ella to go to you,’” Taylor said. “She trusted us with her.”

But Ella wasn’t out of the woods yet. Just as the couple were preparing to bring her home, Ella’s health took a nose dive. The left side of her heart was failing. Instead of going home, Ella was rushed to the Children’s Nebraska.

She needed a tracheostomy — a surgically created hole in her windpipe that provides an alternative airway for breathing. As a result, she could no longer eat on her own but had to be fed through a tube in her stomach.

It also meant she would require round-the-clock care. Already committed, the couple refused to back out.

“As a foster parent, it was just like, the guard that you had prior to protect yourself of not falling in love with someone else’s child, it just fizzled away, and you’re just like, ‘OK, this child needs me and I need them,'” Drew said.

Ella Comes Home

On April 7, 2022, Ella finally came home. Because of her special medical needs, the couple had to hire a nurse to be with her when they couldn’t.

That summer, Ella’s biological parents relinquished all parental rights. And on November 18, 2023, National Adoption Day, Ella, now two years old, came home…for good.

In front of a crowd of 40 family and friends, Ella became Ella Deras. And Taylor and Drew officially became “mama” and “dad.”

After the judge announced Ella’s new name, the courtroom was quiet.

“All you could hear was Ella go, ‘Yay.’ It’s the one thing that brings me to tears every time.”

Drew Deras

Today, Ella is thriving.

With the help of a number of therapists and specialists, she’s meeting all her milestones.

“Now, she’s walking and talking and meeting developmental milestones that a 2-year-old would do. And she’ll start preschool in the fall,” Taylor shared.

It Was Meant to Be

Taylor believes it was all part of God’s master plan. “There’s no other way,” she said.

There isn’t just one road to parenthood. Families come in all shapes and sizes and through all different means. For Taylor and Drew, their family came together when they least expected it and in a way they never saw coming.

But now? They can’t imagine life without their little Ella.

“We just feel lucky that it gets to be for the rest of her life,” Drew said. “We just love her so much.”