December 11, 2008

Teen Uses the Web to Reunite with Father

Teen uses the Web to reunite with biological father
December 1, 2008

She didn't know his name or what he looked like, but a California girl born from a sperm donor was determined to find her biological father, and she did it by using MySpace.

Seventeen years ago, before medical school and a move to Los Angeles, Dr. Todd Whitehurst studied electrical engineering in the bay area. He says, "I was a young guy in my 20s, in graduate school at Stanford, not thinking about a whole lot of the distant future."

The bright young grad student saw an ad. A local sperm bank was looking for donors. He says, "It seemed like a good way to make money and nice thing to do to help families."

Fast forward to January 2007. This time the bright young student is a 14-year-old bay-area girl named Virginia. "I never really talked about it at school," she says. "Most of my friends don't know I'm donor conceived."

She was conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, a fact her mother never hid from her. Even so, Virginia had questions. She says, "Once in a while I'd be curious, maybe I had a bigger nose than my mother. I mean, where did that come from?"

All Virginia and her mom knew about the donor was an ID number and vague details about his life.

"His parents had died of a heart attack, but it hadn't said anything very specific," Virginia says. "Maybe I was at high risk for cancer. I wasn't really sure what would be out there, and I thought as much information as I could get would be best."

Donors are screened, but it's really just a snapshot, and medical histories can often change over time. But the United States protects donor information, so Virginia did what most teens do best: she went online.

She says, "I just took the information that I had. I knew when he was born. I knew where he was born, and I knew his major at the time. I went and typed in the information I could and searched. Seven people came up. I had a picture sitting next to the computer of me. I just matched it up, and he looked very similar.

Whitehurst recalls, "I got an e-mail about 10 o'clock from a 14-year-old girl who indicated she was the biological child from the sperm bank. She knew my donor number 2053. Then she attached a picture of herself to the message, and I opened her picture and looked at it, and I though, ‘Yes, we look a great deal alike.'" And that's how Virginia met Todd Whitehurst. With her mother's blessing, they met in person, and Virginia got her questions answered.

She says, "I'm not worried about cancer, but I know that I'm at risk for heart disease now, but that's not something that needs to bother me now.

As a physician, Whitehurst knows the importance of an updated medical history. Now he has an update about offspring. He says, "It was pretty touching to meet her in person."

But there's more to this story. Tomorrow find out how Todd Whitehurst and Virginia discovered even more members of their extended family.


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