After crossing paths at times over the last couple decades, the lives of two people in Oxnard, Calif., who hardly knew one another were changed forever after they discovered they were actually brother and sister. Finding each other was nothing short of a miracle, claims the brother, who was given a second chance at life after his newfound sister donated her kidney to him.
Diagnosed with diabetes 20 years ago, Frank Ybarra had been on dialysis due to kidney failure since late 2012. Out of possible donors within his family, Frank took his place in line to find a donor. With his blood type, B+, the outcome looked bleak; his estimated wait time for a kidney ranged from 8 to 10 years, which is the national average.
But last week Frank was able to celebrate his 53rd birthday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, just three days after receiving a kidney from Lupe Villanueva. Although they never met until last fall, it was almost as if the universe had been pushing them together for decades.
I don’t know how else to put it except for a miracle.
This is their story.
Lupe, 54, learned she was adopted at age 8 and spent the better part of 30 years searching for her biological family or at least a trace of where she came from.
Frank, on the other hand, grew up believing that the people who lovingly raised him were his birth parents – it was his life-threatening illness that prompted him finding out the truth only last October.
After much searching, Lupe learned her birth parents names a couple of decades ago. They were Cliserio and Lala [their last names are withheld by Lupe's request], and are both now deceased. They lived separate lives elsewhere in California.
During Lupe's search she heard rumors of a brother who had also been given away – but she didn't pursue that back then.
The siblings’ roads started to veer toward one another one afternoon in early 1996 when Lupe was chatting with a coworker friend and showing her baby pictures.
“We looked at the pictures and my coworker says, ‘Oh, my God. You look just like my husband. You could be brother and sister!’” Lupe told Fox News Latino.
The words burst with a resounding big bang inside Lupe’s head. She asked her friend if, by any chance, her husband was related to a Cliserio. The friend exclaimed, “That’s his uncle! You guys are … cousins!”
Over the next 15 years the plot thickened. It turned out Cliserio, Lupe’s biological father, was not only Frank’s uncle but his biological father.
The Ybarras had not been able to conceive, and they had taken over the care of Frank when he was just two hours old. His birth mother, Lala, apparently had gotten pregnant just to entice Cliserio into a committed relationship, and neither of them wanted the boy.
So Cliserio gave the child to his sister and her husband.
Lala told everybody involved, including the Ybarras, that she had had a daughter before Frank, but that she had died in childbirth.
“I remember when I was a little kid going to a funeral and being with my uncle. He said to me ‘You know, I have a daughter here [in the cemetery].’ And I remember as a kid looking from tombstone to tombstone. What I was looking for I had no idea. But I remember I looked,” Frank told FNL.
Unlike Frank, his adoptive mother knew his true origin, and she was intrigued when she heard about a “cousin” trying to establish a connection between her family and theirs.
She helped Lupe find and meet Lala, an encounter that finally took place in the mid-90s. It didn’t yield much information, according to Lupe.
After that, Lupe fell out of touch with Frank and Frank’s family, although she still spoke with Frank’s wife, her friend and former coworker, once in a while.
Two years later, when Frank's adoptive mother passed away, Lupe had the opportunity met her biological father, Cliserio – who had married several times over the years – in the flesh. But she said nothing.
“I really [was] the can of worms that should not be opened, the stone that should not be turned over,” Lupe recalled.
Cliserio died in 2000. Just last year, at a gathering of his extended family that Frank attended, Lupe’s name came up. He overheard a conversation among Cliserio’s other children talking about a sister they had heard of and hoped to meet.
Realizing his wife once told him about a friend who claimed Cliserio was her biological father, he set up a meeting for Lupe and his "cousins," Cliserio’s children.
“I was trying to keep the family together,” Frank said. “Because when the grandparents passed away, it seemed like everyone spread their wings and had their own lives… So I told them, ‘You need to find out who it is and get them in the family.’”
Happy with being able to meet a part of her biological family, Lupe and her husband invited Frank and his wife to dinner last October to thank them. At the restaurant, the unknowing siblings hit it off.
“It felt strange," Frank told FNL. "I had such a connection with Lupe – it’s unexplainable... I’ve never had that feeling before.”
Some time afterward, each of them received a phone call from one of Cliserio's daughters. She told Lupe and Frank about a very revealing conversation she had with him just before he died.
“She said, ‘Frank’s your brother,’” Lupe said, who was shocked to hear the news. “Imagine, I’ve know I was adopted since I was 8 years old. But at 52? [Frank] just had the rug pulled out from underneath him.”
Frank said, “[Cliserio's daughter] just told me, ‘My father is your father. And I was completely floored.”
Armed with the truth but not knowing what the other’s reaction would be, Lupe and Frank met again. She was cautious of bringing up the subject, so he did.
“She reached over and touched my arm saying, ‘I’ve been searching for a while and I had heard these rumors in my journey. And now that I look at you, I see a lot of resemblance between us,’” Frank recalled. She said she wanted to help him with his illness, which by then required daily dialysis.
“She had already spoken to her family and made up her mind,” he remembers warmly. “She wanted to give me her kidney.”
The only thing that remained was a blood test, which soon revealed what they already knew – a 99.99 percent genetic match.
With the surgery now complete, Lupe is already back at work and Frank is recovering exceptionally well. If there’s one thing both siblings want others to take away from this experience, it’s to remove the fear behind donating.
“I knew it, I knew it in my heart," Frank told FNL. "I didn’t need the results anymore. [Lupe] said, ‘I think our meeting is God-sent, a destiny.’ I don’t know how else to put it except for a miracle. It’s been amazing. Amazing. She’s given me a second chance at life. You don’t pass [that] up.”