August 22, 2016 10:32 AM
We all have a lifetime of our own history. Some know the story of their heritage extends even further, through years and years of ancestors. But for Cindy Leppanen, it's been a lifelong search.
"Growing up in high school, we had to do family history. I knew my family history wasn't my own family history," Leppanen said.
Cindy was given up for adoption when she was three days old. She lived in a foster home until she was adopted three months later. She's grateful, and she said her mom and dad will always be her parents. But she lived with questions about her medical history and ancestry for 51 years.
"I didn't know my nationalities until I was 25, so people take a lot of stuff like that for granted," she said. "History is a big thing."
And there were some scary moments too. When her son was having issues with his heart, she couldn't tell the doctors anything about her biological family's medical history.
"My mom calls - they're three hours away - I says, 'Take him in. I have no medical history. Test him for everything,'" Leppanen said.
Turns out he had a serious heart condition that has required multiple surgeries.
After she got married, she began to search for her birth parents. The journey would take her more than 30 years.
"It's like really putting a jigsaw puzzle together," she said.
Turns out her birth father had been looking for her too, but he had some misinformation about where she was actually born.
"51 years ago, he came back looking for me," Leppanen said. "He only went to look in Boston; he never looked around Minnesota."
In reality, she was only hours away from him here in the Northland. Thanks to Ancestry.com and some social media shares, she found a close match - her half sister - who led her to her birth father.
He now lives in Montana, so she talked to him on the phone a few times.
"I asked him, 'Can you just validate this for me and tell me what my date of birth was?'" she said. "He rattled it off like I was born yesterday. So then I knew he was my daddy."
A 32-year search made for some emotional conversations.
"We have cried many tears together, but they're happy tears. It's mending broken hearts," Leppanen said.
He and her newfound family members are helping her connect the dots on the timeline of her ancestry. She suddenly has information on her medical history, and she laughed as she recounted all the strange coincidences between her own life and her fathers.
"Here's the first picture I seen of him where my daughter cropped our pictures together, and I could see the similarities. I can really see it in the eyes and nose and mouth," Cindy said.
The years and years of searching were worth it, though. They all led to a wonderful, emotional moment Friday morning in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport when her father, Byron, arrived for their first meeting.
"A miracle," Byron said.
She made her father a photo book of pictures from her youth to help him catch up.
"I wrote this to him, saying, 'Dad, you loved me since the day I was born, and I loved you my whole life,'" she read.
It was a moment that seemed it would never come.
"I always dreamed that was going to be me one day. And here I am, living the dream," Cindy said.
She hopes someone else will be able to have the same experience someday.
"I feel like I'm reborn," she said. "He's getting a second chance, and so am I."
Now that her past is by her side, her future is all that's left to fill in.
Created: August 22, 2016 10:32 AM
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