CARLSBAD — Dana Mikel never wanted children. “I enjoyed my career and that was going to be my life,” she recalled.
That changed in 1994 after meeting a young accountant at Cannondale Bicycles in Georgetown, Conn. She was 27 and working in sales. Jim Nardi was 24.
Mikel invited Nardi to join her and their coworkers for a beer. “He said, ‘I have to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test),’” she remembered. “I said, ‘I bet I beat your score.’” He had a beer and later fell 10 points short of Mikel’s score, as she predicted.
More importantly, there was a connection. “We just knew,” Nardi said.
The couple, both dog lovers, bought a house, got married and began fostering senior dogs through the Massachusetts SPCA.
“We always wanted to adopt children, but Jim wanted one biological child first,” Mikel said. “He said, ‘If you have one, he or she can have your last name.”
Samus Alexander Mikel was born in 1999. The following year, the family relocated to Carlsbad when Nardi was offered a position with Qualcomm.
“We began volunteering with Wildlife Assist, then with Friends of County Animal Shelters (FOCAS) until Animal Rescue Resource Foundation (AARF) broke off,” Nardi said.
A friend of Mikel’s recommended the book, “The Russian Word for Snow: A True Story of Adoption.” Nardi said, “Let’s go to Russia and get a little girl.” The process began in 2002 and continued until Tess, a little more than one years old, was brought home in 2003.
“They call it a ‘paper pregnancy,’” Mikel said. “It was brutal.” After arriving in her new home, Tess had severe attachment issues brought on by the withholding of affection at the orphanage. Today, she is thriving, and a good student.
In 2007, Mikel was moved to action after becoming aware of 1 million Ethiopian orphans created by the AIDS epidemic. She set out to get a baby boy, but instead got a referral for a girl.
“I said, ‘We’ll take her but we still want a little boy,” she said. After picking up Citina, 5 months, they visited Noah who was about 2 months, weighing only one pound. He had scabies and a distended belly. When his condition worsened, the agency called the deal off saying he wasn’t going to live.
Mikel persisted. As senior manager of operations with Qualcomm, Nardi has family-friendly benefits including a $4,000 reimbursement for adoptions and a week off for bonding time.
“Jim flew over the next day and the judge pushed it through,” Mikel said. Noah arrived in San Diego with scabies, the Giardia parasite, pneumonia and an enlarged heart and liver.
“I was terrified when his fever spiked,” she said. “A week later, with some good ole American doctoring, all major problems were miraculously gone.”
In 2009, the family met Aman at an orphanage where his widowed mother relinquished him so he wouldn’t starve. Officials thought he was 7, but doctors later determined he was 10.
“When he arrived here we put him into soccer camp, and within the first day the coach said, ‘Can we put him into competitive soccer?,’” Nardi said. Aman is also a competitive runner. During his first year at Pacific Rim school, he was voted to the student council.
A friend of the Nardi-Mikel family met Kidest, a 10-year-old girl, on a recent visit to an Ethiopian orphanage. When Nardi returned with her on Oct. 8, after 36 hours on a plane, he took her directly to a soccer game to watch Aman play.
“She was here just one day when she asked if she could go to school,” Mikel said.
With each family member busy with their own commitments, Nardi says their favorite activity is meeting up with other Ethiopian children and their adoptive families at a restaurant in San Diego.
The family also continues to foster puppies through AARF. Over the past 10 years, they’ve fostered 200 dogs, including scores of newborns.
Looking forward, Mikel wants to start a nonprofit to raise funds for Ethiopian orphanages, and possibly adopt again.
“If either of us married anyone else, this never would have worked,” she said. “Once things settle with Kidest, God will throw something toward me. I never planned to have kids and here I’ve got six.”