exposing the dark side of adoption
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Blade, The (Toledo, OH)


It was 44 years ago today that 7-months pregnant Blanca Chorres was kicked in the stomach by her brother and rushed to a Costa Rican hospital where labor was induced. She was barely conscious, but after some time she thought she heard a cry.

Then she fell into a deep sleep.

When Mrs. Chorres awoke, she was greeted by a social worker who told her the baby had died. Mrs. Chorres said she wanted to bury her child. The social worker reminded Mrs. Chorres that she was poor and had other children. The hospital will take care of it, she said.

Physically and mentally, Mrs. Chorres was in no position to argue, so she let it pass. She had another child, studied nursing, and ended up working 37 years at the hospital in which she gave birth to her four children: San Raphael de Alajujela.

Through hard work and keenly focused determination, Mrs. Chorres managed to get her children through college, elevating her family's status and well-being. A daughter, Yamileth, married a congressman.

As time went by she rarely thought about the child she lost, preferring instead to dwell on the present, which was difficult enough.

Then four years ago an unexpected phone call brought everything back. Daniel Bolanos, the Costa Rican consul in Chicago, held the birth certificate of a man born in Costa Rica on Jan. 28, 1957, and raised by adoptive parents in Toledo.

On the certificate, Mrs. Chorres was identified as the man's mother.

It began innocently enough. Chris Kieffer hosted a surprise party for her husband, Art, on Jan. 25, 1997, three days before his 40th birthday. His gift, she decided, would be a trip to Costa Rica.

Mr. Kieffer was born there and was adopted at the age of 3 months by Charles "Ace" Kieffer of Tiffin and his wife, Mary Lou Kieffer of Oak Harbor. Captain Kieffer, a decorated pilot in the Army Air Corps, was stationed in Central America in the mid-1950s. Soon after the adoption he was transferred to a base near Washington.

Around 1960 he retired and moved his family to Toledo, where he went to work for Yoder Machinery in Holland.

Art Kieffer grew up in South Toledo and graduated from Rogers High School and the University of Toledo. A fun-loving guy, Mr. Kieffer eased into adulthood. At 27 he joined Searle as a pharmaceuticals salesman and has remained there 17 years. At 36 he married Chris Popoff, an employment recruiter. They have two children, Natalie, 5, and Carly, 1.

Although his parents were open to him about his adoption, Mr. Kieffer never wished to seek his birth parents. However, Mary Lou Kieffer died when Art was in his early 20s, and his father, who had retired to Puerto Rico, died about 12 years ago. He had no other family to speak of.

So, as he approached 40, he did not mind learning about his past.

He remembers: "If my adoptive parents were still alive, I don't think I would have pursued [it]. Not only out of respect for them, but I never looked at them as adoptive parents. If not for their love and devotion, I would not have had the education I have and be able to provide for my children."

On her husband's birthday, Chris Kieffer, armed with a thick file of documents, called the consul, Mr. Bolanos, who had solved other, similar cases. He had never seen one like this. For one, the documents Mrs. Kieffer had faxed him included the names of Mr. Kieffer's biological parents, which normally are omitted.

Within an hour Mr. Bolanos had located Mrs. Chorres in Alajuela, near San Jose, the capital. He asked Mrs. Kieffer what she wanted him to do. She asked her husband.

Though stunned by the rapid pace of events, Mr. Kieffer did not hesitate.

"Call them," he said.

Mr. Bolanos first spoke with Mrs. Chorres's daughter, Roxana, who was shocked by the call and said she was not aware of any connection between Mr. Kieffer and her family. Mr. Bolanos faxed her document copies. That night the Chorres family met and studied them.

The next day, Mr. Bolanos talked with Mrs. Chorres in a three-way conversation that included Mrs. Kieffer. She told them she was first married to a Peruvian, Bobby Chorres Lopez, with whom she had had her first child, a daughter, Dionny.

She then met Abraham Sanchez, a man 16 years her senior who became her common-law husband and fathered her other three children, two girls and a boy.

Mrs. Chorres suggested that Mr. Kieffer was fathered by her first husband - whose name she retained - and another woman. Nevertheless she offered to accept Mr. Kieffer into the family, and even said the Chorreses would travel to Toledo to meet him.

Mr. Bolanos, now a lawyer living in San Jose, thought that was a curious response. He also knew that since Mrs. Chorres's name was on the birth certificate, she likely was the mother.

Several days later Mrs. Chorres called Mr. Bolanos.

"Daniel," she began, "I have to tell you something. This is my son."

First she told Mr. Bolanos that, coincidentally, the incident reappeared like a dream for the first time in years at church the previous Sunday. She then recounted the story of her fourth pregnancy, the kick to her stomach by an angry brother, and the trip to the hospital. She said she was asleep most of the time. But not too out of it to pick up an unmistakable sound.

"I heard my son when he cried," she said.

Mr. Bolanos suggested to the Chorres family and the Kieffers that they complete a blood test. But after the families exchanged photographs, they realized there was no need. Art Kieffer was a perfect match, particularly with his younger brother, Jorge, who could pass as his twin.

In May, 1997, the Kieffers traveled to Costa Rica for the first of three visits. Mr. Kieffer will never forget the scene at the airport, where more than 20 members of the Chorres and Sanchez families - led by Abraham and Blanca - greeted him, his wife, his daughter, Natalie, and his mother-in-law, Dorothy Popoff, with hugs and kisses.

"It was unbelievable. It was as though we had never left each other," he says.

During their two-week visit the Kieffers toured much of Central America's most scenically diverse country and established a bond with their new family that will last a lifetime and beyond, they say.

By then Mr. Bolanos had figured out that the social worker apparently was in cahoots with a prominent lawyer in a baby-for-sale scam. Mr. Kieffer believes his adoptive parents were unaware of the situation; Mr. Bolanos concurs. The social worker and the lawyer, whose signature inappropriately was on Mr. Kieffer's birth certificate, have died, Mr. Bolanos says. The Chorreses believe other babies were taken.

Mrs. Chorres, now 67, became disconsolate when she discovered how she lost her first son. When she finally met him, she could not stop telling him how bad she felt.

Mr. Kieffer would have none of it.

"I told her she doesn't need to feel guilty. I told her to think how fortunate we are to have [this] opportunity. Had things been different, we may have never been together."

With that thought, 40 years of separation - finally and completely - washed away.

2001 Jan 28