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by Eden Debebe

A letter written by an Edmonton family desperate to help an adopted Chinese girl found its way to OMNI Television news anchor Bowen Zhang in 2017. Despite facing odds compared to “finding a needle in an ocean,” Zhang’s efforts resulted in finding the girl’s birth family, and now her life-saving bone marrow surgery is scheduled for this summer.

Hosanna was left outside of a police station in China as a baby without any identification, and raised in a small orphanage in Guizhou province until Cathy Crowell and her husband Greg officially adopted the three year-old in 2009.

Hosanna was brought to her new home of Edmonton, where doctors immediately worked to treat her severe case of beta thalassemia major, an inherited blood disorder that causes the body to have less hemoglobin than normal. Growing up, Hosanna’s life centered around managing the condition, sleeping with a needle attached to a pump every night and taking frequent trips to the hospital every two weeks for blood transfusions.

“She was 6 or 7, and we were at the hospital and it was a hard day, and she said “Mom am I going to have transfusions my whole life?'” Cathy Crowell said.

“It was like a dark cloud over us and I said, ‘yeah, unless we find your biological family and you have a sibling, you have to do this your whole life’.”

Doctors told Crowell the most effective treatment would be a bone marrow transplant – a tricky procedure made even more difficult once they realized it would mean a search for Hosanna’s birth parents amongst China’s 1.3 billion citizens.

“One Chinese doctor said to me ‘it’s going to be like finding a needle at the bottom of an ocean if you find her family'”, Crowell said.

The search to find Hosanna’s biological parents in China actually began in Canada, with an email addressed to OMNI Television.

In 2017, Crowell wrote “A Letter to My Daughter’s Family”, a moving message begging Hosanna’s birth parents to come forward and help save their daughter.  The note was sent in to OMNI Television and shared amongst its Chinese news teams before landing in anchor Bowen Zhang’s inbox.

Zhang shared Crowell’s note and short video message with Beijing writer and close friend Kevin Luan who helped him post it across Weibo and other popular Chinese social media platforms. Luan says the response that followed was overwhelming.

“First round we saw 3 – 4 million of shares on Weibo and almost 40 million shares of the video,” Luan said.

“I felt much better after because we saw the influence.”

Crowell’s plea had gone viral, making headlines in news coverage across the country and garnering the attention of government officials who distributed thousands of flyers across Guizhou province.

“At that time, when you see the numbers keep growing like that, so much change so fast, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep,” Zhang said.

“Everyone was talking about it, even some Chinese celebrities retweeted it.”

 A few months later, Luan woke up to an exciting message – Hosanna’s birth parents had come forward.

“When I first heard the news – I was in China that time – I was very delighted,” Luan said.

Luan credits the success of their search to the comradery amongst the Chinese community to find Hosanna’s family.

“The key is, a lot of people participated in the process,” Luan said.

“Everyone seems to be weak by themselves but actually very strong when united so I want to thank everyone who has helped.”

Despite receiving dozens of messages every day, Zhang said Crowell’s initial letter made a lasting impact.

“Firstly, the couple’s love moved me because they knew the little girl has blood disease but still decided to adopt her,” Zhang said.

“Second, there was a kind of trust between the parents and OMNI. In the past, I’ve received so many letters from our audience with different requests…but this kind of help is unique…[Cathy and Greg] had tried a few times but it didn’t go anywhere…but they wouldn’t give up. They kept trying.”

The efforts paid off when they received the message from Hosanna’s birth parents.

“We were cautious, right, because we don’t know if it’s real or not,” Zhang said.

“Kevin talked to them and confirmed some information, but eventually you have to go through DNA, right? From there I spoke with Cathy, told her to sit down first….. we were not 100 per cent sure and we still had to go through the DNA test, but at that time in my heart I knew that was it.”

Zhang passed along the good news to the Crowells, who immediately started the process of getting in touch with the biological family, but Crowell said the resemblance was clear before even speaking with them.

“[Bowen] sent me a photo of a man and it was my daughter,” Crowell said.

“I could see my daughter in this man’s face and it blew me away.”

Biological testing quickly confirmed they had in fact found Hosanna’s biological family. The Crowells packed their things and booked a trip to China to meet them. In a universal coincidence Zhang describes as ‘fate’, he was already planning to be in China himself on vacation. He volunteered his services and ended up meeting up with both families there, acting as a translator between the two groups. For Hosanna, it was the first time she’d seen her birth family since being given up for adoption as a baby.

“I just had peace and it was really cool walking through the door and seeing all these faces that were my family,” Hosanna said.

“I think they were so amazed and blessed to see she was doing so well,” Crowell said.

“Can you imagine? This was their last hope, that someone would find her and that she would get the medical help that they couldn’t afford.”

Doctors told them one of Hosanna’s siblings is a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, and after years of sorting through medical paperwork and working around COVID-19 travel restrictions the families have made plans to schedule the surgery for this summer.

For Hosanna, the experience has given her a healthy future and the chance at building a relationship with her biological family.

“When my mom said that she was going to look for my biological family, I thought they’d never find them because China has such a big population,” Hosanna said.

“I’m really excited to form a relationship, especially with my siblings. They don’t know English but I know a bit of Chinese!”

Zhang said he never could have guessed where this story would go after taking it on back in 2017, but is happy he could use his platform to help the Crowell family and Hosanna’s birth parents.

“I didn’t think much, I just thought ‘well yes, I do have some connections,’ “Zhang said.

“I think maybe we could give a little bit of help. I just took a small part of this process. We have a deep connection with the community. I think we have a good understanding of them and their challenges. When you work for the media you know their story, you know their challenges and of course we’re all immigrants as well, we all have gone through something.”

Hosanna’s family has launched an online fundraising campaign to raise funds for her daughter’s bone marrow transplant and Chinese relatives to Canada.

Cathy penned a special letter to staff at OMNI Television, thanking the team and everyone who took the time to share her daughter’s story and aided in the search for Hosanna’s birth parents.


*files from Bailey Nitti, Christine Ling and Bowen Zhang