With 2016 now behind us, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. It seems like the year has been mostly jam-packed with tough times and far too many celebrity deaths. But sometimes, a story comes along that is so genuinely heartwarming that it cancels out at least three of the bad things that happened this year. Case in point, the story of a woman who has adopted 35 children, 26 of whom have special needs. Is she a nun? A superhero? Nope. She’s just a 73-year-old woman in Utah with a heart of gold.
Christie Jameson began adopting children with her husband, Alva, nearly 3o years ago. After having two biological children, the couple decided to grow their family through adoption. They had the room in their home and, as Jameson told People, “nobody can ever be loved too much.”
Though Alva passed away from cancer in 2009, Jameson has continued to care for her 11 children still at home—six of whom have serious heart defects.
“We didn’t go looking for our family—most of them came to us, once the word got out that we would take the kids nobody else wanted,” Jameson said in an interview with People. “All kids deserve a real home of their own and I just couldn’t bear the thought of my kids going into institutions.”
In 2014, there were more than 400,000 children in foster care, but only around 50,000 were adopted. For children with disabilities, the prospects of adoption are nothing short of bleak, and 23,000 children age out of the foster system every year without ever finding a permanent family.
But for 35 lucky children, this was not the case, as they were welcomed into the Jameson house by not only Jameson and Alva but their biological children as well.
“I loved watching my parents get to know the needs of each child that joined our family,” Kristin Jameson, 45, one of Jameon’s two biological children, told People in an interview. “I loved all of my siblings and enjoyed helping to raise some of them. It was really difficult when I had to leave home and go away to college.”
Kristin would later become a special education teacher, a decision she says was inspired by her mother’s selflessness in caring for differently-abled children.
The Jamesons’ adoptive children have had health problems ranging from spina bifida to cerebral palsy to fetal alcohol syndrome, and 12 of the 35 have passed away since being adopted. Though Jameson says it has been “heart-wrenching,” she wouldn’t change a thing.
The special needs children all go to school until the age of 21, after which Jameson devises new ways to keep them learning and engaged. Between trips to the gym or volunteering at a local thrift store, everyone gets involved.
Currently, some of her children are crocheting hats to give to refugees in their community of South Jordan, Utah. “They, more than anyone, know the importance of giving back,” Jameson told People.
Though she now has assistants to help with feeding and bathing, Jameson didn’t receive anything from the state until after her husband passed away. Though their finances were never exactly bountiful, Jameson says everyone always had enough and that was fine.
“In my heart, I knew there was always room for one more,” Jameson told People. “And I know there must be other people out there who would do the very same.”