Thanks to DNA testing, 54-year-old Utahn finally finds birth mom — creating a unique Mother’s Day celebration

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lisa Akers, 54, poses with pictures of her birth mother Lenore and her half-sister Kelly on her cell phone at her home in Grantsville, May 11, 2019. Akers used DNA testing through 23andMe that led her to discover her birth mother and three half-sisters in February 2019. Akers and her family will get to meet her mother Lenore and half-sisters, Lenore, Karen and Kelly for the first time in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Lisa Akers of Grantsville always knew she was adopted into what she calls a wonderful family. But for 54 years, she has still sometimes wondered about her birth mother — what she was like, what she was doing, did she think about Lisa, did she have more children?

Then came a thunder-clap phone call in February.

“The voice on the other end of the phone said, ‘Hi, this is your mother,’” Akers says. "I said, ‘I need just a minute to sit down,’ and I was able to talk to her for about 45 minutes.”

The pair was able to find and reach out to each other because of commercial DNA tests. As a Mother’s Day gift to themselves this year, they plan to meet in person for the first time later this week in Las Vegas.

Akers explains that when she was born, “It was a different day and age back then. It was nuns who delivered me, and pretty much took me out of the room immediately. So, my mom never got the opportunity even so much as to see me.”

The reunion story started last year.

11Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Lisa Akers, 54, poses with a picture of her brother David and herself at the age of three-years-old at her home in Grantsville, May 11, 2019. Akers used DNA testing through 23andMe that led her to discover her birth mother and three half-sisters in February 2019. Akers and her family will get to meet her mother Lenore and half-sisters, Lenore, Karen and Kelly for the first time in Las Vegas on Wednesday and when she does, she will give her mother the photo album of herself when she was little.

Akers, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says she was doing family history work on her adopted family. Members use such research to perform temple ceremonies on behalf of ancestors, including baptism and marriages they believe are eternal if accepted.

Most of the temple work for her possible-to-find ancestors in that adopted family seemed to be completed.

“I was looking for others to help,” Akers says. “I thought that maybe I could find some information on my biological side. I thought maybe I could look to see if I have other relatives. That’s how it started.”

When she decided she was ready to seek her biological family, her adopted father cheered the effort. (Akers’ adopted mother passed away a few years ago).

“My adopted dad actually has been the driving force behind all of this,” he said. “He was the one who gave me all the information. He even bought me the kit” for DNA testing and helped her to reach out to a Florida adoption center for available information on her birth.

Akers first sent a DNA testing kit to Ancestry.com. It sent back results including the ability to send messages through its website to others whose tests identified them as distant relatives.

“But the nearest relative it found was like a second cousin,” she says. “I knew my mother was young when I was born. I knew that there was a strong possibility that honestly nobody in the extended family would know about it” — and that a second cousin likely would not know the exact identity of her mother and direct family members.

So, Akers bought another DNA test kit through 23andMe, and sent it off hoping to find a closer relative through its pool of participants.

“I got results on Feb. 11 showing I have a half sister,” Akers said — and she immediately fired off a message to her through the company’s website. “I was like a crazy woman until I got a response.”

That half sister, named Kelly, sent a message back a few days later. “She was like, OMG, yes, I’ve been looking for you.”

Akers says her half sister reported that she had found out about Akers’ birth by accident but had been sworn to secrecy. Akers said she would love to talk and provided her phone number in hopes of a call.

A few days later, Akers saw an incoming call from out of state and thought it might be from the half sister. Instead her mother was on the line, after receiving the number from the half sister.

After regaining composure from that shock, Akers kept her on the phone for a long talk.

“I honestly was afraid that may be the only time that I would get to talk to her,” she said. “I got the opportunity to be able to say thank you, that I appreciate everything she went through for me.”

It was the beginning of a new relationship, actually several.

Akers found that she had three half sisters: Kelly, Karen and Lenore (Lenore is also the name of her birth mother).

“I’ve been in contact daily,” Akers says. “Every day, someone is texting or calling.”

She adds, “It was really nice that all of them actively wanted to tell me their story and involve me in their stories. I’ve heard horror stories of people whose outreach to their biological family did not have good results. This has been absolutely nothing but positive.”

Akers adds that her birth mother was excited to find out that she is a great grandmother — by Akers’ oldest daughter having a baby. “One of the first things she said was, ‘Well, we've got to make sure we get a four-generation picture.”

They’ve had extensive discussions about their families, including why Akers was given up for adoption.

When she was born, her unmarried birth mother “was young and pretty much just left in a lurch.... She said, ‘I just wanted you to be taken care of and happy.’ She knew she couldn’t do that.”

Akers said she has not asked much yet about her birth father.

“I’ve not crossed that bridge yet. Obviously, this has been a lot to take in. Where I thought I would have contact with one person, it is now four people and their families.”

The group started talking about trying to meet in person. The others are scattered in Florida, North Carolina and New York.

Akers told them that she and her husband had already planned a trip to Las Vegas where he plans to participate in a pool tournament, so it may take some time before they have more available vacation time and money for another trip.

“They said, ‘You know that flights to Vegas are cheap,” Akers said. So now all are meeting later this week there for the first time.

Akers said she plans to call her mother on Mother’s Day, but the real celebration for the holiday will come later in Las Vegas.

“I plan on having a bouquet of flowers sent up to their room for when they arrive with a note saying, ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’” Akers said. And as they all finally spend time together, “I am hopeful that this will heal some old wounds and maybe we make some fun memories instead of just trauma.”

Akers adds, “This Mother’s Day is going to be one for the record books.”