She took “taking your work home” to a whole new level

Every once in a while we hear a story so moving that it shakes us up and reminds us how much power we really have to put pure love into the world.

NICU nurse Katrina Mullen, is one of those people who reminds us how doing the right thing — no questions asked — is the bravest thing we can do.

Mullen was working at Community Hospital North, Indianapolis, when life threw her for a loop.

Mullen’s job was straightforward but not easy: give sick premature babies expert, around-the-clock care. Under such stressful working conditions, you’d think ‘how much worse could a day on the job’ be?

For Katrina Mullen, when one teenager walked through those hospital doors to see her sick triplets stuck in incubators behind a glass? She realized it could be much worse.

A 14 Year-Old-Girl Gave Birth to Triplets — 3 Months Early

three newborn babies
Today Show

When 14-year-old Shariya Small entered the NICU at Community Hospital North, she was just that — small.

She kept her head down and she didn’t take up a lot of space. To Nurse Mullen’s trained eye, it seemed like Shariya Small was lost and alone, but she didn’t realize how right she was.

Like most teenagers, Small was just a young girl trying to keep her head above water. But unlike most teenagers, she had three mouths to feed.

“I was speechless. I was panicking, but I had no time to panic.”

Shariya Small, PEOPLE

Yes, at only 14 years old, Shariya Small became a mother of not one, not two, but three babies.

To make matters more unmanageable, Small had also gone into labor unexpectedly at 26 weeks — only 6 months in to her pregnancy.

Battling the Fight of Her Life

One thing was for certain, Shariya’s three babies were definitely fighters.

After surviving an incredibly dangerous birth journey, her little ones — Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah — held on to dear life.

Small’s babies were immediately dispatched to the emergency unit where they would stay under observation for quite sometime.

During her frequent visits, Shariya Small minded her own business, but thankfully, not everyone was “minding” theirs.

After 5 months of visiting her premature triplets, NICU nurse Mullen couldn’t help but notice one thing about Shariya Small.

Her Triplets Were Hospitalized for 5 Months

Looking back, it’s clear to Katrina Mullen that when Small came to visit her triplets in the hospital, something was very wrong with this picture.

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

Katrina Mullen

Right away, Mullen wanted to step in — but she didn’t know how to.

She definitely had questions she wanted answered. Who was taking care of Small? Why did she spend all her time alone? She never brought snacks with her…so when was she eating?

Still Mullen didn’t react. She stayed patient.

She could tell Small was afraid and closed off. The then-eighth grader was reluctant to share any personal information about her family or life, but thankfully this was one nurse who didn’t scare easy.

“I knew if I gave her time, she’d likely open up to me.”

Katrina Mullen

Little did Mullen know just how right she was.

A Nurse Told This Teen Mom One Secret — And It Changed Everything

woman with a teen girl and three kids
Robert Scheer/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK

During her routine hospital visits, Shariya Small shared how out of place she felt. “I felt like I couldn’t relate to all the other moms on the floor,” Small later told PEOPLE.

But she would soon find out that there was someone who understood her situation better than she could have ever imagined.

And it was the last person she expected.

When the time was right, Nurse Mullen revealed to Small she too had been a teen mom, but had given her baby up for adoption.

“I wanted her to know that I was a teen mom, and that I knew how scary it was.”

Katrina Mullen

After that, everything changed. Their shared experience made these two moms feel closer than ever.

They bonded over their similar experiences, and Nurse Mullen was quick to share tips with Small when it came to taking care of her little ones.

When the triplets were finally ready to leave the hospital, Mullen gave Small her phone number — little did she know how often Small would be calling.

Needless to say, it caught her attention in all the right ways.

A Home Visit Proved It Was Not a Place for Her to Raise Babies

It quickly became clear Small didn’t have much support at home. In fact, it’s why she called so often for advice.

On her day off Nurse Mullen couldn’t keep her mind off of Shariya Small. So she decided to do something about it.

She followed her instincts and thank goodness she did.

Worried about her, Mullen visited Small, who lived an hour away with a family member. When Mullen arrived she was shocked at the living conditions Shariya Small and her three young babies were in.

Mullen grew even more concerned when she noticed how underweight Small’s son, Samari, was.

Once again, her instincts were correct.

After Mullen’s visit, Samari would soon be hospitalized, leading Child Protective Services to step in.

She Saved Her Family From the Foster Care System

family in a courtroom
Courtesy Katrina Mullen

After assessing the situation, Child Protective Services decided that Small and her three infants should go into foster care.

But Mullen knew Small’s family would be torn apart. There was no way a foster family would take in a teenage girl and her three preemie babies.

But she knew she would.

Katrina Mullen was the fearless a single mother of five boys: Sevonté Sumpter-Bey, 23, Shai Sumpter-Bey, 22, SeQuayvion Sumpter-Bey, 16, ShaKovon Sumpter-Bey, 15 and JJ Mullen, 8.

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

Katrina Mullen

Adding four more loved ones to her family was a no brainer. She took all the necessary training to become a foster parent just in time to intercept the conflict.

Just Believing in Someone Can Change Their Life

Even though Mullen could have easily turned her back on Small she didn’t. She was already a single mom to 5 kids with an exhausting job. She could have easily said “it’s out of my hands.”

But she did the exact opposite.

“I just kept thinking, ‘I have to do this,’” Mullen explained. “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.”

Katrina Mullen

Mullen didn’t see this teenage mom and her premature triplets as a burden on her money and resources.

She saw their predicament as an opportunity to change five lives: Shariya Smalls, the triplets, and her own.