A new student transferring in halfway through the school year always garners extra attention from an elementary teacher, as they need extra help getting caught up and fitting in. But when a student named Nate joined her class in December 2018, teacher Jenna Riccio found he warranted her attention more than most: Nate, who was in a wheelchair, seemed frightened and would cry often. Riccio did what she could to make him feel comfortable, and help him warm up and open up to his new environment.
She soon discovered that Nate had sickle cell anemia, which affects one in 365 black children. Because of the effects of this devastating blood disorder, doctors had to amputate parts of both of Nate’s legs, as well as his left arm, three fingers, and part of an ear. Nate had been through so much in his short life, and he tugged at Riccio’s heart strings.
“I’ve heard of sickle cell before Nate, but I had no idea what it entails until I saw firsthand with Nate and it’s a horrible thing to see,” Riccio told GMA. “When he goes into pain crises, they are like 10 out of 10 excruciating pain, and really the only thing you can do is just manage the pain of it.”
When Nate was hospitalized in 2019, Riccio visited him in the hospital. She was aware that he was in foster care, and felt the strong desire to be his foster mom so he could come home from the hospital to someone who genuinely cared about him. Springing into action, she attained her fostering license in just two weeks.
“I had workers come to inspect our home, make sure everything was safe for him and it was like a crash course. We did that all in like 10 days,” Riccio recalls.
On October 3, 2019, she picked Nate up from the hospital and took him home.
In the meantime, in addition to becoming a foster mom, Riccio had also gotten engaged to fellow teacher Tim Riccio, who also had Nate in his art class. They married in May 2021. Nate, still in Jenna’s care as a foster child, joyfully served as their ring bearer.
Although Riccio at first hoped that Nate could be reunited with his biological parents, over the years it became clear that it was not to be. Eventually, their parental rights were terminated. So, the Riccios knew that it was time to make Nate their son forever.