Sisters Reunite With Their Long-Lost Mother After Being Separated for More Than 40 Years
Sisters Jeannie and Starla saw their mother for the last time when they were 1 and 2, after their parents divorced and their father gained full custody.
After nearly 40 years apart, these Kansas sisters are being reunited with their mother, who lost contact with the pair not long after they were born.
"Miracles truly do happen," Jeannie Toomay, 42, told InsideEdition.com. "If it wasn't for my momma being so persistent, I would be going on my normal life like I had been for the last several years. It's amazing."
Jeannie and her sister Starla Medlock, 43, met their mother Lani Szarmach Tuesday, after they were separated when the sisters were just 1 and 2 years old.
"I didn't think it was going to happen," Jeannie explained. "I lost all hope of this ever happening."
She explained her father met his mother when he was stationed in Thailand with the U.S. Air Force many years ago. They were married and moved to Columbus, Ohio, where her sister Starla was born.
A year and a half later, the pair moved to Oxford, England, where Jeannie was born.
"They wound up getting divorced in England," she explained. "She didn't understand English, she's full-blooded Thai. When she signed the paperwork, she thought, 'I'll still get to see my girls.' Apparently that wasn't the case. She basically gave dad full custody of her girls."
Lani continued visiting every day until one day, the girls moved away with their father.
"When our dad passed away from cancer six years ago, I felt like I was an orphan," Jeannie said.
She explained the pair has been trying to search for their mother over the years, but were discouraged after hitting several roadbumps, including being turned away from several organizations because they did not have enough information.
"You reach a point in your life when you become unsuccessful in your search, and you have to suck it up and accept it for what it is and move on," she explained. "I kind of decided this is a chapter of my life that's never going to be complete."
After Lani remarried in the 80s, she often begged for her new husband's help in tracking down her daughters, Jeannie said, but ran into similar roadblocks.
In addition to not having enough information, Jeannie said her mother's Thai accent was very thick, and their stepfather Mark Szarmach often thought Starla's name was Stella, and Jeannie was actually Jenny, short for Jennifer.
On New Year's Eve, Mark stumbled upon Jeannie's Facebook profile, and forwarded her a picture of them as babies that Lani has kept tucked inside her wallet over the years.
"That's when I knew it really wasn't a cruel joke," Jeannie said.
A few days, and several video calls later, Mark and Lani boarded a flight from their home in Pueblo, Colorado to Kansas City to meet their newly discovered family members.
"She came through the door, and she started running and came right at us," Jeannie recalled. "It felt like my heart filling up."
For the next several days, Jeannie and her sister bonded with their mom, and learned more about other members of their family, including uncles, aunts and a grandmother living in Thailand. Their half-sister also joined Lani and Mark on the trip.
Lani was also able to meet her four grandchildren, who are in their teens and early twenties.
"I can't get over how beautiful she is," Jeannie said. "I just kept staring, and I love her voice — she's got the thick Thai accent and the broken English, and I love it."
To make up for lost time, the trio has been bonding over every-day mother-daughter activities they missed out on.
"I've never been to the Asian market, but it was like [momma] was in her natural element," she said. "Our first dinner she made us — oh my god — the food was amazing. Thai food, it was the first time my momma cooked for me."
Even though Lani and Mark will return to their home in Colorado Sunday, Jeannie said she and Starla have many future visits planned, including possibly accompanying their mother to Thailand to meet the rest of their extended family.
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