WATERBURY, Vt. (WCAX) – It’s been one year since Denise McCarty, 47, took a DNA test and found her birth family in South Korea. McCarty also found out the truth about how she ended up in an orphanage in South Korea 45 years ago before being adopted by a family in Vermont on Christmas Eve 1976.

Her whole life, McCarty thought she was abandoned as a baby, but it turns out she actually got lost at a busy and crowded outdoor market, and her birth family has been searching for her ever since.

After a very emotional virtual reunion last year, McCarty traveled to South Korea on Sept. 17 to meet her birth family in person.

MBC and other Korean media outlets were there at the Incheon International Airport as McCarty got off the plane and ran into her birth mother’s arms.

”When I hugged my family, I didn’t want to let them go. It was really hard,” McCarty said.

While sobbing, McCarty hugged her omma, which means “mother” in Korean, her twin sister and her older brother at the airport. From there, McCarty’s family took her to their home to meet the rest of her relatives. She met her aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and in-laws.

McCarty says during her 12-day visit, she and her family feasted during the Chuseok holiday, laughed and joked around, and celebrated her birthday.

“I wanted a birthday cake to celebrate all of the birthdays that my twin and I missed,” McCarty said.

McCarty’s family also introduced her to Korean traditions and customs, such as wearing Hanbook dresses for special occasions.

McCarty says she also visited her sister’s chicken store, her brother’s lottery store, her nieces’ and nephews’ schools, and the president of South Korea’s house.

McCarty’s family also surprised her with gifts including a lottery ticket from her brother.

“I never checked the numbers. Because I told him that I had already won the lottery and then he asked me, ‘You won the lottery?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I found my Korean family.’ And to me, that felt like I had already won the lottery so I really didn’t need to check these numbers,” McCarty said.

As they were making memories together, there was one thing they knew they had to do: visit the market where McCarty, whose birth name is Sang-Ae, got separated from her grandmother and a twin sister, Sang-Hee, 45 years ago.

“We held hands because I was worried I would get lost,” she said. “It was just really symbolic to be able to do that with my twin and my omma because again, that’s where we were lost, and I felt like that gave my mom some closure,” she said.

McCarty says she’s thankful her omma finally got the peace of mind she has been searching for for four decades.

“It was just like a gift back to her to validate that I turned out to be OK. I’m OK,” she said. “I had a good life and I have people that love me and you don’t have to worry anymore.”

McCarty plans to visit her Korean family once a year. She says she’s counting down the days until her next trip in the fall of 2022.

“I have a list of things I want to do!” McCarty said.

McCarty says she’s can’t exactly put into words how she feels having reunited with her birth family. All she can say is it’s a dream come true.

“A life-changing moment. I didn’t even have to bring any gifts. They just wanted to see me. That doesn’t happen to people,” McCarty said. “They’re in my heart and I’m in theirs and I’m looking forward to seeing them next year. It can’t come soon enough.”

McCarty says during her next trip, she wants to meet her birth father’s side of the family. When she first reunited with her birth family last year, she found out her father became a heavy drinker after she disappeared and he died of liver disease 20 years ago. McCarty says she wants to meet her father’s siblings, go to his hometown and learn more about him.

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