Chilean-American Adoptee Reunites with His Family 42 Years After He Was Stolen From Them

Chilean-American Adoptee Reunites with His Family 42 Years After He Was Stolen From Them

42 years ago, María Angélica González lived every mother’s worst nightmare.

She had just given birth to a baby boy, and the nurse had taken him to the incubator, explaining that he needed medical treatment because he was born premature. But when the nurse returned, she told María that the baby had died. María asked for the child’s body so she could say goodbye and bury him, but the nurse said that it had been disposed of. María went home, hands empty and heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

María was so devastated by this traumatic experience, she never even told her 4 other children about the baby she had lost. “I closed myself off to the world with my problems and I suffered a lot,” she told USA Today in a recent interview.

What she didn’t know — for 42 years — was that her son was actually alive and well. And that the hospital where she gave birth to him was part of a massive child trafficking operation that, according to human rights groups, saw the illegal placement of an estimated 20,000–50,000 Chilean babies, stolen from mostly low-income families, for adoption abroad. The goal of this operation, which occurred between the 1960s and the 1990s, was to reduce poverty in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

‘A miracle from God’

María’s son was adopted by American parents who knew nothing about these circumstances. He grew up with the name Jimmy Lippert Thyden, knowing that he had been born in Chile, but with multiple and conflicting stories about his origins.

Then, he read USA Today’s article about Scott Lieberman, another Chilean adoptee who had discovered that he had been stolen from his mother. Scott, in turn, had learned the truth after reading an article in People Magazine about Tyler Graf, a Texas firefighter, also born in Chile, who had uncovered his own story of coerced adoption. Scott, who knew he was born in Chile, wondered if what was true for Tyler might be true for him too. He turned to Nos Buscamos, a nonprofit organization in Chile that helps reunite families affected by coerced adoption, for answers.

Jimmy had a similar reaction when reading Scott’s story. Could it be that he was taken by force from a mother who was still alive?

So Jimmy, like Scott, reached out to Nos Buscamos. Within weeks, they connected him with María.

“It’s a miracle from God,” she told USA Today. “When I learned that he was alive, I couldn’t believe it.”

MyHeritage DNA confirms the relationship

There was just one more step to confirming the relationship: a DNA test. MyHeritage is proud to donate DNA kits to Nos Buscamos, among other NGOs around the world with the similar mission of reuniting adoptees with their birth families. Jimmy was hesitant to take a DNA test at first, but when he understood that it was the only way to confirm the relationship for sure, he thought of the twin daughters he and his wife had lost in April 2022.

“The loss of my girls was so traumatic to me, it almost took me out of this world,” Jimmy told USA Today. “All I could think about is, if there’s a woman in this world that suffered that anguish that I just suffered and she suffered it for no other reason than someone’s greed, then I would be doing something monstrous, on par with the perpetrators of this act to deny the truth of letting this woman know I lived.”

So he took the test — and the DNA results confirmed that he was 100% Chilean and matched him to a first cousin who also uses the MyHeritage platform.

‘How do you hug someone in a way that makes up for 42 years?’

A few weeks ago, Jimmy got on a plane with his wife and their two daughters to meet his mother and siblings for the first time.

Jimmy at the airport with his wife and daughters, on their way to Chile

Jimmy at the airport with his wife and daughters, on their way to Chile

Watch their emotional reunion in the Associated Press report below:

“She says, ‘You have no idea the oceans I’ve cried for you,’” Jimmy told the Associated Press. “‘How many nights I’ve laid awake praying that God let me live long enough to learn what happened to you.’”

“How do you hug someone in a way that makes up for 42 years of hugs?” he added. “42 years robbed, stolen from us. All crashing into this moment. 42 years. But not 43.”

“It’s almost like coming back from the dead,” Sarah Vanunu, our Director of PR, told the Associated Press. “For many of these women, they didn’t know that they even had a child out there. They went home empty-handed from the hospital.”

After reuniting with the whole family, they threw a big party to celebrate all the birthdays they had missed celebrating together, and he popped 42 balloons — one for each year. The family members wrote personal messages on some of them, like “I love you,” “Welcome to our home,” and — from his mother — “You are the most beautiful chapter of my story.”

Jimmy holds his mother’s hand at the party

Jimmy holds his mother’s hand at the party

“Popping those balloons was simultaneously anguishing and empowering,” Jimmy told NBC News in an interview. “I’ve had a wonderful life in America. My parents in America have loved me dearly. My mom and dad have cared for me, given me opportunities, education, love… I’ve had a wonderful life, but every single one of those balloons is a year of wrong.”

Though the Chilean government has praised Nos Buscamos for its work to reunite the victims of the human trafficking operation, it has never officially recognized or apologized for the incident. Jimmy, who is a criminal defense attorney, says he believes the government should be held accountable for what happened to him and to the thousands of other affected families. He says he believes the countries should acknowledge these acts, the way they affect these families, and fund travel for these families and their lineage into perpetuity so that no other special family events are missed. Counseling should be provided to the families on all sides and those who were involved in the crime should be prosecuted so that all the children can be found, and all families given the opportunity for reunion.

Jimmy Thyden with his mother

A bittersweet birthday celebration

“Now, what my parents believed to be one of the most altruistic and loving act they ever did is tainted by this egregious, horrible thing,” Jimmy told the Associated Press. “My parents wanted a family, but they never wanted it like this.”

“I am happy for the moments we’re getting right now, but I lament the loss of 42 years of time with my family, with my siblings, with her,” says Jimmy. “It’s the frustration of losing my culture and the frustration of losing so much time, to not have the built memories together, to not have the experiences of a shared lifetime.”

“Someone you know who believes they are adopted from Chile — this might be their story,” Jimmy told NBC, “and unless you share it with them, unless they know to look, they might never learn it.”

“I’m able to undo 42 years of lies,” Jimmy told the Associated Press. “I’m able to meet my mamá, and my brothers, and my sister, and the life that I’ve never known. And I get to take my children, my daughters, my girls, to a country that is part of who they are, and that they’ll have an appreciation for this culture that I never even got to have… that’s exciting. That’s joy.”

If you know someone who was adopted from Chile and might have been a victim of coerced adoption, please encourage them to reach out to Nos Buscamos or to Tyler Graf’s organization, Connecting Roots.

Order a MyHeritage DNA kit