by Sharon Roznik
April 6, 2009 / fdlreporter.com
The biological father of a Samoan girl adopted by Fond du Lac's Patti Sawyer heard his daughter's voice recently for the first time in almost five years.
With tears streaming down his face, Upega Isaia, 59, of Tufulele, Western Samoa, told 9-year-old Jayden Sawyer in a telephone call to the United States on March 22: "I love you."
The telephone call was arranged by Samoa Victim Support Group, according to the Samoan Observer, the newspaper that covered the story. Melei Isaia, Jayden's biological mother, was unable to be present during the phone call due to illness.
Jayden is the youngest of the Isaias' eight children and was adopted by Sawyer in 2004. The young girl's story made national news and was featured on "Good Morning America" when, earlier this year, a federal judge convicted members of the adoption agency, Focus on Children, of crimes involving an adoption scam.
The agency told Samoan families their children would be educated in America, correspond through e-mails and phone calls, return home for visits, and come home for good when they reached age 18. Adoptive families in the United States — Sawyer among them — were unaware of the deception.
A total of 37 children had been placed with families.
The Samoan government has since deemed the adoptions legal, and the U.S. judge has ordered the convicted to set up a trust fund to help the Samoan children keep in touch with their birth families.
Sawyer said she has taken it a step further by being the only adoptive parent so far to arrange for a visit between Jayden and her biological family.
Sawyer and her three children will depart for Western Samoa on July 28, accompanied by a film crew from "Good Morning America." The visit will coincide with Upega Isaia's 60th birthday celebration.
"I don't know yet how we will afford it, but I will take out a loan on my home if I have to," said Sawyer, adding that all of West Samoan is awaiting Jayden's visit.
An Appleton woman had come forward and volunteered to pay for the Sawyer family's plane fare, which totals about $7,000, as well as travel expenses, but has since then been unable to commit to the funding, Sawyer said.
Despite the setback, plans will go forward, especially now that Jayden has spoken with her father, Sawyer said.
"Jayden's parents understand the situation, and they are just thrilled to be part of her life but realize that she is adopted in America," said Sawyer, who was recently interviewed by People magazine. "That is why it is so important for me to get her there to spend time with them. They are all innocent victims and don't deserve to lose a child."
Isaia explained in the Samoan Observer interview that Jayden left them when she was 4 years old. Because she was the youngest of their eight children, they felt that giving her up for adoption would allow her to have a good future.
Even after learning of the Focus on Children adoption scam, Isaia said he still did not worry " … because we knew that she was in good hands." Over the years the family had petitioned God to "guide her and protect Jayden."
"I just thank God that our prayers are answered," Isaia said.
For Jayden, the conversation was bittersweet.
"I think she kind of felt like she had to make a choice as to who to live with. I told her it is not her choice — that she will live here but that we will visit her parents," Sawyer said.