WAXHAW — Dina Feiden didn’t know she was adopted until she was 40 years old.
Jill Callaham grew up wishing for a sister.
Last year, Feiden was able to learn about the family she didn’t know she had and Callaham’s wish of having a sister was fulfilled.
Feiden’s son encouraged her to take a 23andMe test to find out more about her biological family — 18 years after learning she was adopted. Since learning about the adoption, Feiden trusted God to open doors that would lead her on a journey to finding her biological family.
“I really felt that Jesus had put this in my mind with this adoption, because I didn’t know but I knew...from there everything unfolded the way it needed to unfold that was a safe way for all of us, emotionally,” Dina Feiden said.
(23andMe is a genetic testing company that studies a person’s DNA to discover their heritage and health risks related to their ancestry. Customers purchase kits online which contain supplies to send samples of their saliva back to the company. Several weeks later, customers can access their genetic report on the 23andMe website.)
Dina’s son did some sleuthing and found her birth mother. Unmarried, her birth mother had Dina in 1963. Because of the culture at that time, she moved to Florida to give birth to her daughter.
A couple from Long Island, New York adopted Dina as a baby. Though they were given the option, Dina’s adoptive parents did not want to have contact with the birth mother.
Almost two decades after learning that she was adopted, Dina took a 23andMe DNA test in the spring of 2020. Through that test, she connected with her half-brother, Steve Callaham and his wife Jessica of Atlanta, Georgia.
(Dina also used Ancestry and found that she had a biological, paternal cousin in Virginia).
Steve took a 23andMe test, too, following the death of his father-in-law who had a fatal heart attack while hiking Stone Mountain last fall. Steve’s wife, Jessica, urged him to take a test to see what health factors (like heart disease) he faced based on his DNA.
When 23andMe matched Steve with Dina, Jessica reached out to her. Days later, the Callaham family held a group call with her. Finally, waiting all of her life until 2020, Jill Callaham was given the gift of sisterhood she always wanted.
Thanks to the 23andMe test, Dina was able to discover her birth father, who was also Steve, Jill and their brother’s father.
Unfortunately, her birth father passed away before he and Dina could meet. He died 13 years ago from complications of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. She attempted to have a relationship with her birth mother; however, it turned cold before it had a chance to grow.
Conversely, Dina has been embraced by Callaham’s family — including Callaham’s mother. Callaham’s mother, of Florida, was gracious toward Dina.
Since learning about each other’s existence, Dina and Jill have not wasted a minute getting to know each other. Dina decided she wasn’t going to let any more time slip between her and Jill’s fingers especially since they had been without each other for so long.
They had planned to meet in Atlanta during the Christmas holiday, but Dina’s sons were concerned about her health as she would be traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dina and Jill are so similar that their “thought patterns’’ mirror each other, Dina said. She told Jill, “What if something happens and we never get to meet?” Jill felt the same way. “It was like we just had to come and see each other,” Dina added.
Dina wanted to “seize the moment” despite her sons’ hesitations about traveling.
Dina and Jill met in-person for the first time in January 2021 in Birmingham, Alabama where Jill lives.
By sheer coincidence, Dina’s husband works in Birmingham during the week in proximity to Jill’s home. He and Dina drove to Alabama to meet Jill. The Feidens and Callaham went out to dinner on a Saturday night then church the next morning.
Jill and Dina have many more visits planned in the coming years. In fact, the annual Callaham family reunion is held at Ocean Isle in July. Jill invited Dina where she will get to meet many more biological family members.
The half-sisters agreed that completing a 23andMe DNA test can be a fun learning experience; however, for people who were adopted and would like to know more about their biological families Jill and Dina caution that not all stories end as happily as theirs.
“I’ve always wanted a sister and thank God we finally found each other. To be 55 years old and finally get what I’ve always wanted is such a blessing,” Jill said.