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'A miracle': Sisters reunited after more than 70 years apart

March 9, 2018 Updated: March 10, 2018 at 8:23 pm
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photo - Norma Borgaila, 82, looks at a photo of her sister, with whom she recently was reunited after more than 70 years. (Ellie Mulder/The Gazette)
Norma Borgaila, 82, looks at a photo of her sister, with whom she recently was reunited after more than 70 years. (Ellie Mulder/The Gazette) 

More than 30 years ago, Colorado Springs resident Hazel Prine, 83, was reunited with a sister she had seen only three times since they were separated by adoption as children in 1908.

Last month, history repeated itself for one of her daughters, Norma Borgaila, 82, who spoke with her sister for the first time since they, too, were separated by adoption more than 70 years ago.

The reunion happened over video chat while Borgaila was in Colorado Springs for a month visiting her daughter, Carol Kovacs.

Borgaila said she was overwhelmed and overjoyed, not least of all that her long-lost sister was just as short, around 5 feet tall.

"She said, 'We can share clothes,' and I go, 'Yeah!'" the octogenarian said, laughing as she recounted the reunion.

Seven of Prine's 14 children - including Borgaila - were placed in an Iowa orphanage in 1945 when she divorced her abusive, alcoholic husband, Kovacs said.

The three who were adopted disappeared from the rest of the family's lives - until the internet came along.

Borgaila was 9 when her siblings, 1-year-old Patrick Henry, 3-year-old Doris Darlene and 6-year-old Donald Dean, were adopted. Borgaila, who was born deaf, was thought to be mentally disabled because of her disability and sent to an institution for several years before attending a school for the deaf.

"I thank God for sending me to the ... school, because that's where I learned about love," Borgaila said. "Oh, they showed so much love to me."

Finally, at age 20, she was reunited with members of her family. But she didn't think she would ever meet her three remaining siblings.

A year or two ago, one of Borgaila's sons who was interested in the family's ancestry asked for her DNA and sent it to ancestry.com. Using DNA submissions, the website helps reveal users' ancestry and ethnicity and connects them to living relatives on the site.

The children of her lost sister, Doris Darlene Johnson, also had submitted their mother's DNA to the website. "It came back as a perfect match" with Borgaila, Kovacs said.

Johnson's family searched online and stumbled upon a sermon from one of Borgaila's sons, a preacher.

"One of the sermons that he did was on my mom's story," Kovacs said. "They found that story and read through it and said, 'This sounds a lot like what you went through, Doris.'"

The children of the long-long sisters connected, and on Feb. 20, Kovacs surprised Borgaila, showing her pictures of Johnson as a child and telling her they would be able to video chat.

Borgaila was astonished, exclaiming, "She's alive!" The joyful exchange was captured on video.

Borgaila lives in Iowa and Johnson in Texas. They'll get to meet in person at a family reunion planned for June in Fort Dodge, Iowa - the town they lived in when they were separated as children.

Prine and her children had been searching for the three missing siblings for decades. Johnson, too, had been searching for her biological family, Kovacs said. When Johnson graduated high school, she went to the courthouse and asked for her adoption records, but was denied. She then went to the orphanage, but was told all records had been destroyed.

In 1986, The Gazette reported on Prine's reunion with her sister, Iva Irene Anderson. Prine, who moved to Colorado Springs in the '80s to live with Borgaila's family, was separated from her brother and sister by adoption. Borgaila has since moved back to Iowa, but Kovacs lives in Colorado Springs.

Prine died in 1996in a nursing home at age 93 without having seen her three missing children again.

Borgaila called reuniting with Johnson in her 80s "a miracle."

"God helped me live that long because I wanted to see her - I prayed and prayed," Borgaila said. But she still hopes to be reunited with her two brothers, Patrick Henry and Donald Dean, her voice shaking as she recalled the last time she saw them.

"We don't know where they are yet, and I say yet because we still have hope that we will find them - or they'll find us," Kovacs said.

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Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198

Twitter: @lemarie

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