'Hello, mama': Watch the emotional moment mother and son are reunited for the first time in four decades
Video credit: Constanza Del Rio/Nos Buscamos
By Elaine McCallig, ITV News Digital Content Producer
A Chilean man who was "stolen at birth" and raised by a family in the US has been reunited with his birth mother for the first time.
Forty-two years ago, hospital workers took Maria Angelica Gonzalez’s son from her arms right after birth and later told her he had died.
But four decades on, she was reunited with the son she mourned - Jimmy Lippert Thyden - at her home in Valdivia, Chile.
“I love you very much,” Mr Thyden told his mother in Spanish as they embraced amid tears.
“It knocked the wind out of me. ... I was suffocated by the gravity of this moment,” Mr Thyden told The Associated Press.
“How do you hug someone in a way that makes up for 42 years of hugs?”
He added: "But not 43. Never 43."
Mr Thyden is now a lawyer with two children of his own.
He began his journey to find his birth family after he read news stories about Chilean-born adoptees who had been reunited with their birth relatives with the help of a Chilean nonprofit Nos Buscamos.
The organisation discovered that Mr Thyden had been born prematurely at a hospital in Santiago, Chile's capital, and placed in an incubator.
His mother was told to leave the hospital - but when she returned, she was told he had died.
“The paperwork I have for my adoption tells me I have no living relatives. And I learned in the last few months that I have a mama and I have four brothers and a sister,” Mr Thyden said.
Mr Thyden had been adopted by unwitting parents in the US and was raised in Arlington, Virginia.
He said his was a case of “counterfeit adoption.”
'I'm able to undo 42 years of lies and I'm able to meet my mama and my brothers and my sister and the life that I have never known,' Mr Thyden said
Nos Buscamos estimates tens of thousands of babies were taken from Chilean families in the 1970s and 1980s, based on a report from the Investigations Police of Chile which reviewed the passports of Chilean children who left the country and never came back.
“The real story was these kids were stolen from poor families, poor women that didn’t know. They didn’t know how to defend themselves,” said Constanza del Rio, founder and director and Nos Buscamos.
The child-trafficking coincided with many other human rights violations that took place during the 17-year reign of General Augusto Pinochet, who led a Chilean coup to overthrow Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973.
During the dictatorship, at least 3,095 people were killed, according to government figures, and tens of thousands more were tortured or jailed for political reasons.
Over the past nine years, Nos Buscamos has orchestrated more than 450 reunions between adoptees and their birth families, del Rio said.
Other nonprofit organisations are doing similar work, including Hijos y Madres del Silencio in Chile and Connecting Roots in the United States.
'It's almost like [their child is] coming back from the dead for many of these women, they didn't know that they even have a child out there,' Sarah Vanunu from MyHeritage said
Nos Buscamos has been partnering for two years with genealogy platform MyHeritage, which provides free at-home DNA testing kits for distribution to Chilean adoptees and suspected victims of child trafficking in Chile.
Mr Thyden's DNA test confirmed he was Chilean, and the platform matched him with a first cousin. He reached out, and his cousin was able to help connect him with his birth mother.
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, Mr Thyden was greeted with 42 colourful balloons, each one signifying a year of lost time with his Chilean family.
“There is an empowerment in popping those balloons, empowerment in being there with your family to take inventory of all that was lost,” he said.
Mr 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.”
Mr Thyden and his daughters pop 42 balloons in his mother's house - each representing one year since his birth
Mr Thyden said his adoptive parents are supportive of his journey to reunite with his lost relatives, but were “unwitting victims” of a far-reaching illegal adoption network and are wrestling with the realities of the situation.
“My parents wanted a family but they never wanted it like this,” he said. “Not at the extortion of another, the robbing of another.”
While in Chile, Thyden and del Rio met with one of seven investigators working to address thousands of counterfeit adoption cases like his own.
Thyden also met with Juan Gabriel Valdes, the Chilean ambassador to the United States, to seek government recognition of the pervasiveness of the adoption scheme.
He said there was no mechanism, financial or otherwise, to assist Chilean adoptees in their efforts to visit their home country. He said he sold a truck to pay for his family’s plane tickets and other expenses.
“People need to be able to decide ... what their name is going to be, where their citizenship is going to be. They should have access to both,” he said.
"They should have all the rights and privileges of a Chilean citizen because this is a thing that happened to them, not that they chose.”
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