Church News article leads to discovery of his `lost' family

Six months ago, on Nov. 8, 1997, the Church News published an article about Abel Padilla Davis who, after an accident at a cane grinding mill in Bolivia 28 years ago, had to have his right arm amputated and numerous surgeries to repair his left hand. He was 4 years old. He spent the next six years in Bolivian hospitals.

In 1976, after his records were lost and social workers were unable to locate his family, he was sent to Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City for further treatment. In 1977, he was adopted by Jeron and Annette Davis, parents of 10 children. He and his wife, Wendy Watts Davis, are parents of four children, the youngest having been born since the article was published.The Church News article began: "Abel Davis does not know the day or month he was born, only that it was in 1966 in a Bolivian village in the Andes. . . . Glimpses from early childhood parade through his memory: his mother's full f gray in their black hair."

Because one man did more than just read the Church News article, Abel Davis now knows more about his past.

Steven J. Eyre served a mission to Bolivia from 1974-76. Now an attorney in Hollywood, Calif., and a member of the Hollywood Ward, he did not see the Church News article until January when he picked up several back issues and began thumbing through pages. "I started reading one of the articles about this kid in the Andes," Brother Eyre told the Church News in a telephone interview. "As I read the story, it looked more and more familiar. I said to myself, `I think I know this kid!' "

While serving in La Paz, then-Elder Eyre and his companion sometimes visited Obrajes Children's Rehabilitation Center on their preparation days. "We'd show film strips and play with the kids," Brother Eyre said. "I remember pushing Abel around on the floor, playing race cars. He had a distinctive personality. He liked to be in the middle of what was happening."

Brother Eyre studied the photograph that accompanied the Church News article. He was sure the man pictured tossing a softball to his son had been the one-armed boy he met at the hospital in La Paz. He wrote Brother Davis a letter. Instead of writing back, Brother Davis telephoned him. During the conversation, Brother Eyre asked him for any details he could remember about the town he was from in Bolivia. To those details, Brother Eyre added his own knowledge of Bolivia's geography to hone in on a likely province.

Not wanting to raise false hopes, he did not tell Brother Davis that he was going to search for his family. He looked up some maps and did some research, part of which was done on the Internet. He found an article about Mojocoya, which listed the name of the town's mayor, Eleuterio Arancibia.

"I had a name I could work with," Brother Eyre said. "I wrote a letter to the mayor and asked if anyone in his town remembered this boy. I sent a copy of the Church News article and a translation of it in Spanish. I thought it might help me get more information if the people there saw the article in print." He asked if the mayor could send a copy of Abel's birth certificate. "I sent the letter off, not knowing what would happen," he said.

What happened was that the mayor took the letter to Brother Davis' mother. Within a few weeks - in late April - Brother Eyre received a package from Mr. Arancibia. In it were a letter from Brother Davis' mother, a picture of her and a copy of his birth certificate.

He was anxious to let his friend know what he had learned. But, in the meantime, Brother Davis, who is self-employed as a motivational speaker, had moved his family temporarily to live with his wife's parents in Sandy, Utah, until they could move into their new home. Having no address or telephone number for Brother Davis, Brother Eyre searched the Internet, located the name of Abel Davis on a page for a speaker's bureau, called the phone number listed and left a message on its answering machine asking him to call back.

"I called him at his office on a Thursday," Brother Davis said. "Steven told me, I hope what I've done is all right, but when we talked before you said you wanted to find your parents.' He then explained about the letter he had written, and said,Guess what - your mother's alive.'

"I said, What do you mean?' I remembered my mother as an old woman, and knew she couldn't still be alive. He said,She's alive. I have in my hand a letter from your mother and a picture of her taken a month ago. I have a copy of your birth certificate.'

"It was unbelievable. I was in awe that he went to the trouble to do that kind of research on his own. I was surprised that he found my mother; I had tried many times - I'd written to the hospitals in Bolivia, to the Bolivian consul's office in San Francisco, to missionaries who had served in Bolivia, to everyone I could think of. And now this man was telling me that he had found my mother!"

Not wanting to "spoil the surprise," Brother Eyre told him just a few details, and said that he would send him the package by overnight courier.

"I didn't sleep much that night," Brother Davis said. "The next day was Friday. As I anxiously waited for the package, I realized that I had given him my post office box number instead of my street address. The courier couldn't deliver to a post office box! It was Monday before I received it.

"I went downstairs into our bedroom and shut the door," he said. "I was nervous opening the envelope. On my birth certificate, I found that I had been born on Feb. 28. I thought, `Hey, that's not bad.' I've been celebrating my birthday on Feb. 3 all these years - the birthday of Luz Bustamante, a social worker who did so much for me. Then I looked at the year. I was shocked. I was born in 1965, not 1966. I'm a year older than I thought I was!

"After getting over that shock, I looked for the picture of my mother. I picked it up and kept looking at it closely to kind of visualize her life and just to absorb the aura of this woman. It wasn't a very clear picture, but I thought she looked pretty good for 60, which is her age. I thought, `This is my mother. The last time I saw her was when she took me to the hospital.' I then read her letter."

His mother filled him in on details of the accident, and explained that she took him to the hospital in Sucre "where they amputated your little right arm because of the advanced stage of gangrene." She stayed by his side as long as she could but eventually had to return home. She did so "with confidence placed in our Creator. . . . From that time I never saw you again, my beloved son. Even though I asked everywhere, the only thing I learned was that they had taken you to the city of La Paz and from there to the United States. After such a long time, I feel happy because I know that you are alive and have a family, I would love to meet them before I die. I am now 60 years old. I also want to tell you that you have 6 siblings. . . . I ask God that you may be happy having found yourself in the hands of good people, the only thing I can do from this great distance is thank your new adoptive parents infinitely and pray God to bless them.

"My desire would be that you come at least for a little while. . . . I live alone . . . but my esteemed son, with my poverty and the Blessing of God I am well and happily at peace. To close, my beloved and remembered son, . . . receive my loving greetings and a kiss from your mother who longs to see you soon."

Brother Davis said, "I was touched because of the sincere, humble woman that she is. I sat on the bed and just relished those few moments that I had for myself in reading the words of my mother, reading the love that she poured into those words - simple, honest words. I could see how loving and caring she seemed to me, how she yearned to see me.

"At that instant, I thought, `I've got to make this complete. I have to go to Bolivia and see her.' For me, it was a spiritual experience. After all these years, I became connected with my mother through this letter. I felt the need to embrace her and let her know that I'm fine, that things are well and to give my love to her.

"I called for Wendy to come sit with me. I shared the letter with her. We shed tears. It's hard to explain the feelings of not knowing of your parents, of your mom and dad for so many years. Even though that void was taken over by my adoptive parents, just knowing that she is still alive brought great satisfaction. Wendy and I felt that the Lord has made all this possible. The way everything happened to come about - from this one article in the Church News, and Steven Eyre reading it in California and doing that research. . . . We felt blessed at that moment."

With excitement, Brother Davis shared the news with his adoptive parents and siblings. "They were all so happy for me," he said. "They offered their frequent-flyer miles to help with air transportation and asked what they could do to help me get to Bolivia."

Brother Davis hopes to make that trip in August of this year. But, he said, he wants it to be more than just a visit. "I want to go to the hospitals where I lived for six years and take something for the children there - some toys or clothes or something they can use. I want to establish a foundation in honor of Luz Bustamante, go to where she is buried and pay my respects to her."

With vivid memory, Brother Davis recalls a scene from his years as a child with no family when he lived at one of the hospitals in Bolivia: "Without parents, I was left to envy the laughter, hugs and kisses that other children shared with their families who visited. I tried to keep those emotions inside, but I found myself sometimes sitting next to the tall tree adjacent to the hospital weeping, reaching out for attention."

His tears of longing for a family are now just memories. He became part of a loving family when Jeron and Annette Davis adopted him 22 years ago and now, 29 years since he last saw her, he has been put in touch with the mother who gave him life. He has family.

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