The visit to the hospital by a school teacher turned out to be life-changing for both her and her student. She found out that the student, who was previously under the care of his birth family, had been taken out of their home and was about to be placed in foster care. Touched by the child’s situation, the teacher felt a strong urge to take action and support him.
Jenna Riccio, an elementary school teacher at Walsh Elementary School in Waterbury, Connecticut, met a new student named Nathaneal, or “Nate,” in December 2018. Despite the fact that Nathaneal was a shy, reserved student who kept to himself, Jenna felt an instant and strong connection with him. She noticed that Nathaneal would often break down in tears and felt a strong urge to comfort him. Nathaneal was the only student in the school who used a wheelchair and had transferred mid-year.
The Heartbreaking Revelation
Jenna was unaware that Nate had a dark and painful secret, one that he kept hidden from everyone, including his teachers and classmates. As the days went by, Jenna noticed that despite Nate’s efforts to fit in and make friends, he remained distant and detached from the rest of the school community. Little did she know that he was struggling with something far more serious than just adjusting to a new school environment.
Jenna had heard of the condition known as sickle cell anemia, but it was only after meeting Nate that she fully understood what it meant to live with it. Tragically, due to the severity of Nate’s condition, doctors were forced to perform multiple amputations, including both of his legs below the knee, part of his left arm, three fingers, and a portion of his ear.
The Unexpected Turn of Events During the Hospital Visit
The young student’s struggle with sickle cell anemia had taken a toll on him, requiring frequent hospitalizations and causing immense pain. When Jenna heard that Nate was hospitalized again in 2019, she immediately went to visit him. During her visit, she discovered that he had been removed from his birth family and was facing the possibility of going into foster care with no friends or family by his side.
Jenna felt a calling to do more than just visit him in the hospital. She made the decision to become his foster mother, and within just two weeks, she successfully completed the necessary background checks and training to make it happen.
The Cute Ring Bearer and Devoted Older Brother
As Nate was on the road to recovery, Jenna worked diligently to make sure he could come home with her. On October 3, 2019, the two left the hospital together, with Nate under her care. In the meantime, Jenna’s relationship with Tim Riccio, an art teacher at Walsh Elementary where Nate had also been a student, blossomed into engagement.
As Jenna and Tim talked about their wedding plans, Jenna shared with Tim her desire to adopt Nate one day. Tim’s agreement filled Jenna with ten times her excitement. On May 15, 2021, they exchanged vows in the presence of their loved ones, with Nate serving as their adorable ring bearer.
Jackie Vidal, who oversaw Nate’s case, spoke about the wedding saying, “The love in the room was remarkable, everyone wanted to take a turn dancing with Nate.” In February of 2022, Nate became a proud older sibling when Jenna and Tim welcomed their baby girl, Julien. Jenna spoke about the special relationship between Nate and Julien, saying,
“She’s obsessed with him, and lights up when she hears his voice.”
Part of the Riccio Family
The Riccio family became complete on November 19, 2022, as Nate officially became Jenna and Tim’s son on National Adoption Day. The 10-year-old now had a new identity and a surname, and he was overjoyed as he hugged his parents and baby sister after the adoption hearing concluded.
Nate’s older biological brother, Giovhany Mondestin, was also present for the special occasion. Though it was difficult for Giovhany to see his younger brother go, he was comforted by the love and affection Jenna and Tim showed towards Nate. He saw that everything had turned out for the best and was glad that Nate was happy and safe with his new family.
Exploring Life’s Milestones with His Adoptive Parents
Nate’s path had been a challenging one. When Jenna became his foster mom, he felt a range of conflicting emotions and didn’t know how he would adjust to his new surroundings. However, the love, care, and attention he received from the Riccios soon made him realize that he had found his forever home.
During his first year with the Riccios, Nate experienced Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the first time, and even went on his first swims and beach trips. The Riccios had planned to make his first birthday with them extra special, but those plans were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nate’s dream of meeting his favorite actor, Grant Gustin from the TV show “The Flash,” also came true through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Every day with the Riccios was filled with love, joy, and new adventures, and he felt grateful to be a part of their family.
A True Inspiration
Jenna and Tim, both aged 37 and 38 respectively, were grateful to God for blessing them with Nate every day. Tim regarded his son as a beacon of hope and determination, while Jenna was effusive in her praise for the way Nate had taught her motherhood. She also noted that:
“He’s gone through so much in his 10 years he’s been on earth and he wakes up every day with a smile on his face, ready to tackle the day. He is an inspiration … not just to me and Tim, but every single person in our family.”
The Riccios aspire to bring attention to sickle cell anemia through their inspiring story and inspire families to consider fostering and adoption. Show your support for this charming family by leaving a comment on Facebook.