Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Richard Bodager knew he was adopted the way he knew he wanted to be more than a fry cook at a West Virginia fast-food chicken joint as a teenager.
He knew it at 5 years old, the way he knew his adoptive mom had a fierce temper, the way he knew his adoptive father was a “salt of the earth” leader in his community, or the way knew his older sister was adopted, too.
It was always something the Las Vegas resident knew, but for decades it was the only thing he knew.
“In West Virginia, there are two levels of seal on adoption records, the state to which you basically just file the paperwork, and you can get through that,” Bodager said. “But then there’s a parental seal. If there’s a parental seal, you can really only get a very limited amount of health information. So that’s all I could get because my records are sealed.”
About 10 years ago, Bodager and his wife, Sherri, tried to get information on his DNA so they could be informed about his health history for their son. But because of the parental seal, they couldn’t get far.
Then, this past Christmas, she bought him a DNA kit from 23andMe, a private DNA testing company. When the results came in, he sat for a moment in shock.
“Then you get this report that says your genetic relatives and what was shocking about it was it said, you have 1,053 genetic relatives — so you start going through it. And most of them are third cousins, fourth cousins, fifth cousins, sixth cousins,” said Bodager, the CEO of Desert Radiology. “They’re very small percentages — anywhere from a quarter percent of your matching DNA to maybe 2 percent, but there were two that stood out.”
One match was 25 percent; another that was 14 percent. While the report didn’t give too much detail, the first match was followed by the word female and the initials "SC." The second match just had Kathleen written.
“What was funny about it was in the report it said, this could be your granddaughter,” Bodager said. “I’m trying to explain to my wife. This is not my granddaughter unless something went horribly wrong when I was like 15 that I’m not aware of.”
Bodager, 50, sat on the information for a few weeks, unsure of what the information could mean. After all, beyond his children and wife, Bodager didn’t have much family — he wasn’t close to his adoptive sister, and both of his adoptive parents have died.
Then, on a Friday night in March, he poured himself a glass of wine, sat in front of his computer and typed, “I’m fairly sure you’re not my granddaughter, but we must be related because of the match. So, I’d love to get to know more about your family.”
The next Saturday night, Bodager was grilling salmon for dinner, when “this message pops up. And it says, you have a message from your DNA relative. So, I open the message on my phone while the salmon’s cooking. And the very first line is, 'I’m not your granddaughter. I’m your sister.'”
His half-sister, Sarah Condry, knew about Bodager since her 20s, but that was long before she could find him.
The siblings chatted over the phone and via video, and both Condry and Bodager felt at ease with their relationship. They’ve bonded on their love of peanut butter, parenthood — Condry has two young boys — wine and life. They both have the same piercing blue eyes.
“We didn’t have the first number of years of our lives together, but we get to meet as adults, adults with children, adults with life experiences to share with each other,” Condry said. “To be able to suddenly share that with my brother is incredible — it gives us the opportunity to get to know each other and grow close.”
Condry helped connect Bodager with his biological father and mother, who gave him up for adoption when he was born. While his mother now lives in Ireland, she studied in the U.S. where she met the father of Bodager and Condry during college. Neither of Bodager’s biological parents were in a position to care for the child and decided the best thing to do was to put the child up for adoption.
While Bodager knows more than he did a year ago, there are still mysteries without answers — like what happened during that six-week period between when he was born and when he was adopted. He may never know, but he’ll continue to look for answers, including finally getting to meet his biological sister.
Bodager and his wife next month will travel to London, where Condry lives, to meet in person. The two siblings separated by years and oceans will be together for the first time in their lives and might be able to answer some of their questions.