A lot of mamas meet their babies in hospital rooms, but Angela Farnan wasn’t a patient in the maternity ward when she first held her son—she was his nurse on the pediatric intensive care unit at OSF Children’s Hospital in Peoria, Illinois.

In May 2017 Angela was on the care team for a newborn boy who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital defect. His name is Blaze, and on June 8, 2018 Angela and her husband Rick became his parents.

Now, in a new interview with People, Angela opens up about her son’s adoption.

“Sometimes I wake up and pinch myself and ask, ‘Is this real?’ Then I look over and yes, he’s still here,” she tells the magazine.

Before Angela met the tiny baby boy who would become her son she’d spent more than 30 years working in the NICU and PICU. About halfway through that career she met and married Rick. Angela wanted to have kids with Rick, but it wasn’t in the cards. “We both did testing – basically, my eggs weren’t viable for conceiving,” she explains in a post to the OSF Healthcare website.

As a pediatric nurse she still had children in her life every day and loved caring for them, but Blaze became a special case. After his first surgery when he was just 3 days old, Angela spent months caring for the baby boy, and became close with his birth mother, CBS Chicago reports.

According to OSF, Blaze’s birth family lived far from the hospital and didn’t have the resources to care for his medical needs at home. It became clear that Blaze would need to go into foster care while he waited for his second heart surgery, which would happen when he was about 6 months old.

Angela stepped up and offered her home, at her own expense. When she got the call that she had been approved to foster Blaze she was thrilled, and so were her PICU coworkers, who threw together a baby shower so that Angela and Rick would have everything they needed to bring baby Blaze home

As Blaze’s foster mom, Angela kept his birth family updated on his health and development, and when it was time for the second surgery his birth parents traveled to Peoria and sat with Angela and Rick. It was then that Blaze’s birth mother asked Angela the question that would change her life.

“She made a heartfelt decision to ask us if we’d be willing to keep him on a permanent basis,” Angela told CBS Chicago. “We didn’t even look at each other. Rick and I didn’t need to have a discussion. We said, ‘absolutely.'”

Angela and Rick were thrilled and honored to be asked to adopt the baby boy they’d fallen in love with. When Blaze was 11 months old the adoption papers were filed, and last summer he officially became the Farnans’ son.

Blaze’s medical journey isn’t over. When he’s between 3 and 5 he’ll need to have another heart surgery, which should relieve some of the stress on his heart. Doctors say he might one day require a heart transplant, but that’s decades away and the next surgery should keep his heart going for years to come.

For Angela, being asked to mother Blaze is a dream come true, but also gives her another perspective as a PICU nurse. “It really made me question the expectations we have for parents taking home a medically dependent kid … you can’t do it all yourself, and I’m a nurse,” she says. “I prepare parents for this, it’s what I do. But it’s not a 12- to 16-hour shift, it’s 24/7. It humbled me to what parents in a situation like this experience.”

Angela is still working, but she says now that she’s Blaze’s mama she doesn’t need time to decompress at the end of her workday the way she used to. “Now, I come home and he’s so excited to see me—it lifts me. I don’t need that half hour anymore. I just need that face and that smile. I can have the worst day and all I want to do is get home and see him. It just makes it all better.”

[A version of this post was originally published March 4, 2019. It has been updated.]

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