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American man stolen at birth reunites with his birth mother in Chile

A mother and son hug for the first time since his kidnapping 42 years ago
A mother and son hug for the first time since his kidnapping 42 years ago Copyright AP.
Copyright AP.
By Euronews with AP
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Thousands of families in Chile are still searching for answers regarding their missing children taken during the Pinochet regime. One son managed to locate his biological mother after forty-two years apart.

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Forty-two years ago, hospital workers told Maria Angelica Gonzalez that her newborn son had died. Now, she has finally reunited with him in Chile.

“I love you very much,” Jimmy Lippert Thyden told his mother in Spanish as they embraced amid tears.

His journey to find the birth family he never knew began in April after he read news stories about Chilean-born adoptees who had been reunited with their birth relatives with the help of a Chilean non-profit 'Nos Buscamos'.

The organisation found that Thyden was born prematurely at a hospital in Santiago and placed in an incubator. Gonzalez was then told to leave the hospital. However, when she returned for her child, she was told he had died and his body had been disposed of.

Thyden says he was one of many  “counterfeit adoptions.”

Removing the Shadow of the Pinochet era

Under General Augusto Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship, over 3,000 people were killed and tens of thousands more were either tortured or imprisoned.

Human Rights groups estimate that between 1973 and the 1990s, over 20,000 babies were stolen from predominantly low-income families and were put up for adoption abroad.

Doctors, nurses, priests, nuns, social workers and judges all played roles in the plot, which turned into a lucrative child trafficking venture for the authorities.

In 2014, the Chilean news outlet CIPER investigated priests and nuns who profited from the scheme. Some of the stolen children - now adults- began to question if their adoptions were legitimate.

Since then, many non-profit organisations such as 'Nos Buscamos', 'Hijos y Madres del Silencio' in Chile, and 'Connecting Roots' in the United States have worked tirelessly to help adoptees reunite with their biological families.

How 'Nos Buscamos' operates

The NGO has orchestrated over 450 reunions between adoptees and their birth families in the last decade.

The group has partnered with the genealogy platform MyHeritage, which provides free at-home DNA testing kits for distribution to Chilean adoptees and suspected victims of child trafficking in Chile.

Thyden’s DNA test confirmed that he was 100% Chilean and matched him to a first cousin who also used the MyHeritage platform.

Thyden sent the cousin his adoption papers, which included an address for his birth mother, Maria Angelica Gonzalez.

His cousin was able to help him make the connection.

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But she initially wouldn’t take his phone calls until he sent her a photo of his wife and daughters.

Then, Thyden sent her more photos of the American family who adopted him, his time in the US Marines, his wedding, and many other key life milestones.

A reunion 42 years in the making

He travelled to Chile with his wife, Johannah, and their two daughters, Ebba Joy, 8, and Betty Grace, 5, to meet his newly discovered family.

Stepping into his mother’s home, Thyden was greeted with 42 colourful balloons, each one signifying a year of lost time with his Chilean family.

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Thyden recalls his birth mother’s response to hearing from him: “Mijo (son) you have no idea the oceans I’ve cried for you. How many nights I’ve laid awake praying that God let me live long enough to learn what happened to you.”

Thyden says his American parents support his journey to reunite with his lost relatives and were “unwitting victims” of a far-reaching illegal adoption network and are currently wrestling with the realities of the situation.

“My parents wanted a family but they never wanted it like this,” he said.

While Thyden has been successfully reunited with his birth family, he recognises that reunification might not be possible for other adoptees.

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