Twin sisters adopted by different families didn’t feel a bond at first, but they’re best friends now.

“We were strangers,” Ha Nguyen says of Isabella Solimene. The twin sisters were born in Vietnam to a single mother who couldn’t take care of them, but it’s shortly after their birth that their stories diverge. 

Both girls were eventually adopted—but under very different circumstances. The orphanage that Ha and Isabella’s biological mother took them to wouldn’t accept Ha because of her health issues, and so this twin sister ended up being adopted by her Aunt Ro, her mother’s sister. Ha grew up an only child in a one-bedroom house in a rural village, raised on milk from the family cow, breathing in the fresh air of the countryside, and having free run of the green fields surrounding her home. She describes it as “a beautiful childhood.”

Isabella, on the other hand, was adopted at the age of three by an American couple who would raise her over 9,000 miles away in the state of Illinois. Keely and Mick Solimene also adopted Isabella’s best friend at the orphanage, a girl the same age who they named Olivia. Isabella and Olivia grew up with four other brothers and sisters, the Solimenes’ biological children, in a loud and loving household. Their typical American childhood in Chicago was also a happy one.

Separate Existences

And so neither Ha nor Isabella felt that they needed anything else. And although they both knew of the other’s existence, neither girl tried to locate the other. They were busy living their own lives in their own, close-knit families. 

But someone else thought it was absolutely vital for the girls to know each other, and that person was Keely Solimene. Keely says it was a feeling of deep connection to Vietnam that pushed her to look for Isabella’s twin sister. “I knew that while the girls were too young at the time to understand the feelings I had, I always knew they would mature into young women that would share the same feelings.”

So in 2011, Isabella flew to Cam Ranh to meet her 13-year-old twin for the first time. Ha, in rural Vietnam, got into a vehicle for the first time in her life to be driven to the city. Exhausted and car sick, she burst into tears when she saw Isabella. “We hugged, but it was awkward,” Isabella remembers.

Not Love at First Sight

Twin reunions are known for being emotional events where the two parties feel instant connection—but that wasn’t the case for Isabella and Ha. An ocean of cultural differences separated them, not to mention the language barrier. Everything they said to each other had to pass through an interpreter. It made conversation slow and tedious. 

“We did not bond on that trip,” acknowledges Isabella. Ha agrees.

After Isabella went back to Chicago, Keely made sure that the girls kept in touch via a weekly Skype session, at which there was also an interpreter. These sessions went about as well as their in-person meeting: forced time together that neither girl wanted. But Keely didn’t give up. Ha was family, and Keely knew that the girls would grow to appreciate that connection.

Slowly, they did. Isabella and Ha started to use Google Translate to send each other text messages. Without an interpreter as a go-between, conversation was easier, more natural. They could share more things. The sisters started to form a bond. The next year, when Isabella flew back to Vietnam to see her sister a second time, the reunion was more joyful. The two girls were friends.

When Ha was given the opportunity to live with the Solimenes and finish her high school years in Chicago, Isabella was both delighted and nervous. Would Ha fit in with her already large family? Would there be any jealousy between Ha (her twin sister) and Olivia (her adopted sister)? 

She needn’t have worried. “To my surprise,” Isabella said, “when Ha came in, it was like she was completing a puzzle. We didn’t have to find a spot for her. It was like she was always supposed to be here.”

Twin Sisters, Best Friends

While Ha and Isabella’s twin bond might not have been instantaneous when they met each other for the first time at the age of 13, it has since had ample time to grow. After completing high school, the girls went to college together. And while Ha remains close to her family in Vietnam, she has now found her other half.

“We have a strong emotional understanding of each other that I don’t have with my other brothers and sisters,” Isabella said of their twin bond. “It’s just this feeling of sameness. She’ll understand what I’m feeling without me having to say a word.” 

Keely Solimene can now feel justified in her efforts to bring the twin sisters together. Their reunion—and the time to nurture and solidify their unique bond—was a true gift given by someone who truly loves them.