October 03, 2012 Edition

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Mother, daughter find each
other after 25-year separation

Sandy Fender of Walnut Ridge recently found her daughter, Saura, who has been in Iran since she was nearly three years old. With Saura are her husband, Ali, and son, Erfan.
Gretchen Hunt

Sandy Mans Fender of Walnut Ridge was missing a very important part of her life for 25 years - her daughter.

A native of Walnut Ridge, Sandy said after her daughter's birth in Texas, she returned to Arkansas in 1985. Then, in 1986, when Saura was nearly three years old, she was taken by her father to his native country of Iran.

"I had convinced myself at the time that he was only going for a visit and would bring her back," Sandy said.

For a period of time, Sandy and her oldest son, Bobby Hatfield, were able to communicate with Saura on the phone when she was at her uncle's home, but then that contact was halted, as well.

"Her father said he was going to stop because she would cry for weeks after she talked to us," Sandy said.

Through the years while Saura would cry herself to sleep at night, Sandy would pray.

"I would try to imagine her life and what she was doing, but it was difficult because the picture in my mind was of my little girl," she said. "It was hard to imagine her as a teenager, and then as an adult."

She said at the same time she had difficulty shaking the questions, "Does she miss me?, Does she know that I love her?, Does she know that I am alive or where I am?"

In the end, it was Saura's half-brother in Iran who made the initial connection.

"My brother Travis (Fender) had his email listed on a family tree application," Bobby said. "Her brother there, found Travis here."

Saura's brother and sister in Iran and her brothers here were hesitant to announce the discovery too quickly.

Sandy said when Travis was contacted he was concerned and not quite sure if it was legitimate.

"He was afraid to get my hopes up, so he passed the information to my oldest son, who through email and Facebook made contact and confirmed it was Saura," she said.

Sandy had a copy of Saura's U.S. birth certificate, which listed the birth of a daughter named Saura Lynn, and Saura had a copy of her Iranian birth certificate, which listed her mother as Sandra Lynn, American.

The date of birth on both certificates was Jan. 17, 1984, in Houston, Texas.

Bobby said that Saura's brother asked them to wait to call her because she had a final exam that day and he wanted her to be able to focus on her test.

When Sandy finally got to make that phone call, she said she knew immediately the voice on the other end was her daughter.

Bobby said they learned that Saura had always been looking for them, just as they had been looking for her.

"When she was taken, I was five," he said. "I've used every tool I could to try to find her through the years."

While in the service, he spoke with embassies, and when he started working for AT&T in 2009, he had unlimited calling and they would call any number that he thought might lead them to her.

"I always said one of these days we are going to find her," he said.

Since that initial conversation in 2010, there have been many conversations over the phone and through video chat thanks to a computer Sandy received as a Christmas gift from her sons.

"While I am thankful for the communication I do have, it does not feel like enough," Sandy said. "I ache to hold my baby girl and my grandchildren."

Saura, along with her husband and two children, are hoping to relocate to the United States and finally have that face-to-face reunion.

While she is a U.S. citizen, a Visa will be necessary to allow her family to come to the United States.

Much of the paper work has already been completed, but another hurdle stands in the way. Making the reunion become a reality will not be inexpensive.

"The plane tickets alone are $1,800 per person," Bobby said. "Once we get them here, it will be no problem. We have a home they are going to stay in already ready for them."

In addition, both are well educated. Saura is completing her master's degree in physical education, and her husband is an engineer and college professor.

Sandy said she would love to hear from others who might have advice to help make this dream a reality. Anyone who would like to write Fender can do so at P.O. Box 752, Walnut Ridge, AR 72476. There is also an account established at First National Bank under "Help Bring My Daughter Home" in care of Sandy Lynn Fender.

"I am hoping that somehow others can offer advice or assistance so that one day, very soon, my daughter and I can see each other in person," she said. "I know that there is no way I could go to where she is, but I am just hoping that someone can help me find a way to get her, her husband and her children here in the United States.

"When she says 'Mommy, I miss you and cannot wait to see you,' it breaks me apart. I want so much for this to happen, but I cannot do it on my own."

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