Jason Sandoval never truly had a dad in his life. Not really. He’s never had siblings, either. Now, the 42-year-old Arvada resident is a son, a brother and an uncle — as he’s been for all of …
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Jason Sandoval never truly had a dad in his life. Not really. He’s never had siblings, either. Now, the 42-year-old Arvada resident is a son, a brother and an uncle — as he’s been for all of these years — he just didn’t know it. Until now.
His discovery actually started, in part, because of his wife’s own inquiries about genetic markers that she may have. Katelyn Macy didn’t find out much in her initial search on 23andme.com, but just as the COVID-19 pandemic started last March she stumbled across a family of her own — an aunt, who just happened to reside in Aspen of all places.
“She grew up in Aspen and I grew up in Evergreen. We were living these parallel lives and had no idea,” said Katelyn, a South Korean native who was adopted by Mark and Pam Macy when she was 6 months old.
“We are the same person. We have everything in common. Same humor, look similar,” Katelyn added.
Her aunt, Kim, who is 3 years older and now resides in Virginia, was adopted at 3 months old. Because of Katelyn’s discovery years earlier of her birth mother in South Korea, she’s been able to help her aunt connect with her biological mother, father and six siblings. Katelyn’s biological grandparents had given up Kim for adoption.
“I really do believe that everybody who’s been adopted as a kid has a yearning to figure out their biological roots,” Pam said.
Just like Katelyn did not all that long ago when she traveled to South Korea with her adopted half-brother, Travis, to visit her biological family not knowing that there was a family already in Colorado.
She figures that she and Kim, a mother of two, probably crossed paths numerous times before, be it through high school swim meets - Katelyn is a 2003 Evergreen High alum - or work conferences and never knew they were related.
“The whole thing is they could’ve met so many different times,” Pam said. “I couldn’t be anymore happier that they found each other. It fills a need for each of them.”
A family trace
That brings us back to Jacob, who initially ventured to 23andme.com because not only had his grandfather died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2003, but his father-in-law was diagnosed with it just 2 years ago.
Jacob discovered he has one potential marker putting him at a slight risk for the disease, but what he uncovered about his ever-growing family tree was more stunning.
“For us, it wasn’t about finding family. We thought that we knew all of our family. At least, I did,” said Jacob, who has a 4-year-old son, Jackson, with Katelyn as well as twin 7-month-old sons, Cameron and Cole.
For all he knew, he was the son of Ben and Rose Sandoval, born in Colorado Springs in 1978. But Ben - his stepdad - left two years after he was born, never to be in his life again, and his mother passed a year later following a brain aneurysm. Jacob would be raised by his maternal grandparents.
It wasn’t until last October when he took the test on 23andme.com that his family history was rewritten.
Results showed that he had a half-sister. That in itself wasn’t too surprising, after all, Ben had moved on with life and fathered a son and daughter. But neither of them was related to Jacob.
It wasn’t until he connected with Michelle Hagerty on 23andme.com that the pieces started to fall into place. Like Jacob, Michelle had combed the website because of curiosity over her genetics and ethnicity because her father had grown up in foster care. But finding a potential sibling more than 1,000 miles away from her southern California home?
“We had no idea how we were connected,” Sandoval said. “I didn’t know anybody out there and she didn’t know anyone in Colorado Springs, so we thought maybe it was a mistake.”
“At first, it felt really, really weird. Who is this suspicious person?” said Michelle, who coincidentally recently adopted a daughter of her own. “He was forthcoming. What is his motive? Is this guy nuts I thought to myself. I’d be wary, but nothing odd came up. Then I realized he really was my brother.”
But how? It didn’t make sense until it did.
Family from afar
Michelle discovered that Steve, a 63-year-old U.S. Army veteran, had been stationed at Fort Carson for three and a half years in the late 1970s when Jacob was born. Jacob’s biological parents had a brief relationship before Steve was shipped overseas to Germany and Rose reunited with her future husband, Ben.
When tests came back from 23andme that not only were Jacob and Michelle a 50% match but so were Jacob and Steve the evidence couldn’t be denied any longer.
Steve had a third child to go with daughter Michelle, born in 1985, and another son, Jason, who was born four years prior. Michelle, meanwhile, has another brother, and Jason has a family that he has never known.
Jacob and Michelle have communicated daily since they discovered each other, while father and son have also started to build upon their new-found relationship, catching up on lost time while comparing remarkable resemblances about each other, be it their receding hairlines, inquisitive nature or passion for fixing things.
“We talked for two straight hours on the phone. He has apologized for not being there, but (he) didn’t know. We had no idea,” Jacob said. “He had left, gotten out of the Army, went back to California, got married with two kids. He never thought about it.”
He didn’t have a reason to.
“It’s surreal. … Did this really happen?” acknowledged Steve, who lives outside of Los Angeles. “There are a lot of emotions there, but we’re accepting it for what it is. In some ways, I feel like we all those years. But it’s kind of nice to have it now to pick up the pieces and go with it.”
Building a bond
They text each other throughout the week and talk every week.
“There is a connection there even though there is all of these years apart. It was quite interesting. We didn’t know that we existed,” said Steve, now the father of three and grandfather to seven.
Thus far, there have been only phone calls and video chats but one day - possibly soon - a family reunion will occur, Jacob said.
“It’s given them a second chance,” Katelyn said. “There’s so much they’ve lost, but this has given them both an opportunity to have a second chance.”
Just as it gave Katelyn when she met her biological mother, who she hopes to see again this summer for the first time in 12 years.
“It’s a huge adjustment to start calling somebody dad after 42 years, but he calls me son,” Jacob said. “We have feelings. He’ll say I love you and I say love you back.”
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