Liz Story was adopted at 6 weeks of age from Mobile and grew up in Arkansas. When she was in fourth grade, her family told her she had been adopted.
“I was so excited that there was this mystery in my life. I couldn’t wait to get to school the next day to tell everyone,” Story said.
She never lost that dream of finding her birth mother and spent much of her childhood thinking about that possibility. Story went to college, but left before graduation to join the Army, serving four years. When she left the Army, she had a child of her own, which caused her to revisit thoughts of finding her birth mother. After some initial bumps in the road, Story hired a private investigator, who found her birth mother living not far from where Story was born.
Though Story was not living in Mobile at the time, she and her birth mother still had a joyful reunion and vowed to keep in contact. Story’s adoptive mother, however, had misgivings about finding her birth mother.
“My mother took it very hard when I decided to find my birth mother. But when I told her, she just sighed and told me, ‘Well, I always knew you’d look,’” Story said.
One night, the two families met for dinner, and Story’s two mothers met for the first time.
“My birth mother told my mom thank you for raising me, that I was such a wonderful woman and everything. And it was weird — after that moment, they were like best friends. They keep in touch regularly now,” Story said.
Five years after locating her biological family, Story’s aunt needed a kidney transplant. Nell Gustavson, the sister of Story’s biological mother, suffered from Polycystic Kidney Disease, or PKD. According to a news release for Story’s book, 500,000 people in the United States have PKD, and almost half of those will need dialysis as the disease progresses.
Hearing about her aunt’s predicament, Story decided to take action. “I happened to be the only one in my family to both be a match and who wanted to donate. It’s just so crazy how you come into people’s lives for a reason,” Story said.
Story describes the donation process as “physically intense,” citing the many tests and screenings necessary before the transplant could even take place. After countless blood and DNA tests to make sure she had no genetic link for the disease herself, she finally underwent surgery to donate her kidney to Gustavson on April 23, 2010.
“The doctors told us if the kidney creates urine on the operating table, then it was a successful surgery, and that’s just what happened. It was a major success,” Story said.
Donate Life America recognizes April annually as National Donate Life Month, in which local and national encourage people to register as organ donors, according to DonateLife.net, making the timing of Story’s donation even more meaningful.
After two weeks of recovery, Story left the hospital feeling no worse for wear and knowing that Gustavson’s life has been forever changed. “She never had to do dialysis because of the donation, so now she likes to do a lot of charity walks, and she works a lot with the Alabama Kidney Foundation,” Story said.
Despite the life-changing and life-saving act of donating, Story doesn’t believe anything she did was particularly heroic: she is simply grateful to be able to build these bonds with her birth family.
In November 2013, Story released her first book titled, “A Series of Extreme Decisions: An Adoptee’s Story,” detailing her search for her birth mother and her donation to her aunt. The book also touches on aspects of nature versus nurture specifically in regards to adopted children. “I just thought of the majority of adoptees who are unsettled or unhappy, and I wanted to put out a positive story about adoption, as well as inspire people to donate [organs],” Story said.
Part of the motivation for her first book also came from reaching out to fellow adoptees. Story recognizes that many adoptees struggle with self-identity and formation throughout their childhood years as a result of feeling abandoned or not knowing where they came from. “Hopefully, the book will help adoptees realize that they can figure out who they are, and that it’s not DNA or who raised you,” Story said.
Story has two more book ideas in the works, both having to do with adoption and adoptees. Her second hopes to look at adoption historically and tracing the changing motivations for adopting.
Looking back, Story loves the way she grew up and how her dreams of finding her family came to fruition. “I’m grateful to have two mothers. Mother’s Day is even more special now that I’ve found my birth mother,” Story said.