Jimmy Lippert Thyden always thought he had no living blood relatives. Then he came across a USA TODAY story about a man stolen from his mother in Chile and adopted out to American parents.
It has been 42 years since María Angélica González saw her son.
He was a newborn. A nurse told González he needed to be put in an incubator because he was premature. Not long after, she returned with devastating news: The baby was dead.
For 42 years, that’s what González believed. For 42 years, it has been a lie.
Gonzalez’s son, Jimmy Lippert Thyden, was stolen from González, adopted out to unwitting parents in the United States and raised in Arlington, Virginia. For 42 years, Thyden believed he had no living relatives in Chile, where he was born.
Then one day in April, Thyden read a USA TODAY story about a California man who had learned he was stolen from his mother in Chile and illegally adopted out to an American couple. It got Thyden thinking: Could the same thing have happened to him?
Within weeks, Thyden learned the truth. And last week, González finally got to hug her son.
As Thyden walked up to González outside her home in Valdivia, Chile, the heartbroken mother could barely look at her son.
Wracked with sobs, González covered her face with her hands as the space between them vanished. Thyden’s voice cracked, “Hola, Mamá.”
Watch the emotional reunion below. They fiercely hugged each other, swayed side to side and both sobbed.
“Te amo mucho,” Thyden cried. “I love you so much.”
“It’s a miracle from God,” González, 69, told USA TODAY during a video chat in Spanish as she sat with Thyden on Saturday. “When I learned that he was alive, I couldn’t believe it.”
Thyden, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Ashburn, Virginia, told USA TODAY that meeting his mother was incredible but that it’s a complicated time for him as he gets to know her and the rest of the family, including a sister and four brothers.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Chile’s stolen children
USA TODAY has been writing about Chile’s stolen children since April.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, human rights groups believe that more than 20,000 babies were taken from mostly low-income mothers in Chile and adopted out to unsuspecting parents in foreign countries.
The practice amounted to an elaborate human trafficking operation that involved a network of midwives, doctors, social workers, nuns, priests and judges, many of whom got rich off the scheme while fulfilling a key goal of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s regime to make Chile an economic success.
The practice came to light in 2014, when an investigative news agency called CIPER wrote about some cases involving a priest and a doctor. That’s also when the stolen babies, now adults, started learning that they weren’t voluntarily given up like they always believed.
Nonprofits say that since 2014 they have helped reunite at least 650 people who were taken from their Chilean mothers and adopted to families in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Peru and Australia.
Most of Chile’s stolen children in the U.S. have found out about their pasts by stumbling across news stories. USA TODAY’s story in April led six people to find out the truth about their pasts, said Constanza del Río, founder and president of Nos Buscamos, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to reuniting the families ripped apart during Pinochet’s regime.
Donated DNA tests from MyHeritage are helping connect the dots and speed up the process. Before, Chilean families would have to travel to Santiago to submit a DNA test. Now, Nos Buscamos can travel to them with MyHeritage tests.
The company has donated more than 20,000 DNA kits globally, company spokeswoman Sarah Vanunu said in a statement.
“In Chile specifically, the stories are especially poignant as we’re in a race against time,” she said. “These families were tragically separated. Most of the adoptees are in their 40s today, mainly living in the U.S. and Europe, and the mothers in Chile are aging. Most don’t even realize that this is their story.”
Thyden is now part of a growing community of people who have learned the truth about their adoptions in Chile and reconnected with their birth families.
In the U.S., more than 40 of the adoptees have formed a support network where they can share their pasts and their pain, and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.
The past few months have been a lot for Thyden, who was reluctant to take a DNA test when Nos Buscamos told him that’s how they confirm an adoptee’s background.
But then Thyden thought of his twin daughters, whom his wife miscarried in April 2022.
“The loss of my girls was so traumatic to me, it almost took me out of this world,” he said. “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 a monster on par with the perpetrators of this act to deny the truth of letting this woman know I lived.”
All that time, González said, she never told her other four sons and daughter about the baby she thought had died.
“I closed myself off to the world with my problems and I suffered a lot,” she said. “They told me he died. … You trust the word of the doctors and nurses because they’re the authorities of the hospital. You can’t imagine how someone can do something so awful.”
So far, it’s only nonprofit groups like Nos Buscamos and Hijos y Madres del Silencio that are working to reconnect adoptees with their birth families.
Nos Buscamos, for example, gets no government funding and relies on volunteers for the often lengthy work involved in confirming relationships with DNA tests.
Del Río said the Chilean government has done virtually nothing to help and has failed to acknowledge what happened or apologize for it.
“We have been working with the last three presidents, and all of them have congratulated us because of what we are doing, but still the government or the state of Chile hasn’t recognized this as a historical thing that really happened,” she said.
Thyden, a criminal defense attorney who served in the U.S. Marines for 19 years, said the accountability needs to begin now.
For starters, he wants the Chilean government to recognize the harm that has been done and do everything it can to help identify separated families and reunite them, including paying for travel. He wants them to pay for counseling and to prosecute anybody who helped traffic Chilean babies.
In the meantime, Thyden said, he’ll continue bonding with his Chilean family and creating their first shared memories.
Just after he met the whole family, they sang “Happy birthday” to him in Spanish and had him pop 42 balloons representing the 42 years they missed together.
Some of the balloons had personal messages on them, like “I love you,” and “Welcome to our home.”
One was written by his mamá: “You’re the most beautiful chapter of my story.”
Source : USA Today