A Baldwinite who was adopted as a newborn recently received the gift of a lifetime when he tracked down his biological family with the help of a simple DNA test.
Nearly two decades ago, Donald Scheurer, 58, now a husband and father of two, learned that the family whom he had grown up with was not related to him by blood. The discovery came after the death of his adoptive mother.
“For my first 30 years, I didn’t know I was adopted,” said Scheurer, who works for Bloomberg. “My [adoptive] mom basically swore the family to secrecy” — so he didn’t know he was adopted until she died and his family’s lawyers released his adoption papers.
The revelation led to a years-long search for his biological family. He researched and contacted people he thought could help him. He searched online for clues, and contacted Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, where he was born, seeking adoption records, but he kept running into dead ends.
That is how his search went for the longest time, until he gave 23andMe a try last November. The online company collects DNA data to connect people with their genetic ancestors and family members. 23andMe put Scheurer in touch with a first cousin, who steered him in the right direction.
His cousin connected him with Charlann Haener and Jane Hunyor, a pair of siblings who also turned out to be Scheurer’s half-sisters. He sent them an email introducing himself and letting them know that he was searching for his family. Suddenly, after years of little to no progress, he had connected with an entire branch of his family tree.
“This all happened in the span of two months,” said Don’s wife, Hedy. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
Suddenly, meeting his biological family didn’t seem like such a far-away dream. In mid-February he was preparing for a five-day trip to meet them, and had scheduled a flight to Michigan, where his birth mother, Joanna Korn, now 86, was living in a senior home. But an unexpected call from his sister informed him that his mother, who suffers from complications related to diabetes, had been rushed to the Intensive Care Unit.
Korn, who was once a member of a traveling band, had given up her son for adoption when she was 28. Neither she nor the man with whom she had had a relationship was prepared to have a child at that time, Scheurer said.
Scheurer’s half-sisters were born later, and were told they had a half-brother, but had no way of identifying or contacting him.
Finally meeting his biological mother was something of a trial for Scheurer. “My sister Charlan called me that night and said, ‘Look, I don’t know. She’s going to the hospital, and I’m going there now. I’ll stay there tonight and call you in the morning,’” he said. “That morning, [my wife and I] got up, and I was like, ‘I waited this long, I’ve got to go” see her. He feared that his mother’s health was declining fast, and he wouldn’t be able to talk to her.
He, his wife, and his adoptive sister Donna Scheurer-Purre, mobilized and were out the door and on the first flight to Michigan within two hours.
He learned when he arrived that his mother was unresponsive, and the doctor had planned to intubate her, but something strange happened.
“It was the weirdest thing,” he explained. “About an hour before I got to the hospital, she came out of this lethargy, and she started responding, so by the time I got there, she was awake and responsive, and I was like, thank God.”
Hedy said she would long remember the first words her husband’s mother spoke to him. “She said, ’I never got to hold you. They wrapped you in a blanket, and they took [you] away, and that was it,’” Hedy recalled.
“It’s really interesting how it came full circle now,” Scheurer said. “It’s crazy.”
His mother survived and is now responsive. Scheurer plans to introduce his adult children to the other side of his family. Even though he went most of his life without knowing them, now he can’t imagine living without them, and though he has a lot of catching up to do, he said he couldn’t wait to get started.