In 2012, Massachusetts resident Tracy Antonelli flew to China to adopt now-7-year-old Emmie. Antonelli had found her on an adoption advocacy site the year before and was shocked to learn the little girl was suffering from thalassemia, a rare genetic blood disorder that Antonelli herself was diagnosed with at the age of 4. "Not only was she adorable, but we both had thalassemia," Antonelli tells People. "From that moment, it became my life’s work to make her my daughter." Little did she and her husband, Patrick Mooty, know that they'd ultimately bring home two more daughters—Rosie, 6; and Frannie, 3—both with the same condition.
At 43, Antonelli gets blood transfusions every three weeks, and her daughters need the transfusions, too—but weren't getting them in China. "We all went from strangers to being bonded for life" in more ways than one, she says. Live Science reports that in people with thalassemia, which is more common in China, the body doesn't make sufficient hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body and without which anemia is far likelier. In severe cases, patients who don't get transfusions can suffer organ damage and die. "We didn’t know that part of our family was on the other side of the world," Antonelli says. "But now we're complete." (This doctor is studying a disease that nearly killed him.)