Separated at birth, twin sisters find one another


Separated days after their birth, twin sisters grew up just minutes apart, but never knew of each other’s existence.

They lived in the same Chicago neighborhood.

They shopped in the same stores, had mutual friends and went to services at the same Jewish temple.

They even shared the same womb for nine months.

But it took about seven decades for the twins to know of each other’s existence.

Just three days after their births, the baby girls were adopted by separate families.

“I always felt like there was a piece of me missing,” said Etta Stevens, of Hollywood. “Now the circle is complete.”

This week, Sandi Ikenn flew from Chicago to South Florida to spend some bonding time with her sister. They’ll go to the beach, and practice meditation — which Etta teachers — and have a girls’ night out Friday.

“It’s like we are catching up,’’ said Sandi, “but we are also moving forward.”

Sitting close to each other on a couch in Etta’s sixth-floor condo and frequently grabbing each other’s arm or chin, the sisters tallied their similarities:

They both start their day with oatmeal.

They both like dark meat chicken.

And they both like the frosting on cake.

“That’s the best one,” said Sandi.

Although practically strangers, they finished each other’s sentences, answered questions simultaneously and played off each other’s responses as if they had known each other their entire lives.

Fraternal twins, the sisters have similar noses, and eyes, but that’s where the resemblance stops. While both were born brunettes, Sandi has let her straight hair turn a smoky gray, while Etta has opted for strawberry blond curls. Sandi’s eyes are hazel, while Etta’s are brown. Sandi is a petite 5-feet-2; Etta a statuesque 5-feet-8.

The twins were born to an Italian mother at Evangelical Hospital, now Christ Hospital, in South Chicago on Nov. 3

Now comes the first sisterly spat. Etta wouldn’t reveal the year.

“What’s the big deal?” said Sandi.

Etta held firm.

“We are in show biz, we don’t reveal our age,” said Etta Stevens, who had a Chicago-based radio program with her husband for more than two decades.

“We were both chubby babies,” she added. “I am sure our mothers shopped at the same stores.”

Sandi was adopted by Rose and Dave Boriss and grew up in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, on Chicago’s north side.

An only child, “I had everything I wanted,” said Sandi, including a horse.

In high school, she was a cheerleader and sang in musicals.

Married at 18, Sandi had three children, one of whom was adopted, and was twice widowed. She spent her entire life in Chicago and worked as an assistant in medical offices and pharmacies.

Etta was adopted by Nathan and Sadye Kartman, and grew up about five minutes from her twin sister’s home in North Chicago. The Kartmans also adopted a son, who was about six years older.

Etta loved science, played volleyball, was on the debate team and wrote for her high school newspaper.

She was not yet 18 when she married her first husband, who was in the U.S. Army. They, too, had three children, but the couple divorced.

She and second husband Larry Stevens had a radio show out of the Drake Hotel from the mid-’70s to mid-’90s. Known as Mr. and Mrs. F.M., they interviewed Chicago celebrities, from Oprah Winfrey to Frank Sinatra.

About 18 years ago, the Stevenses became snow birds, spending half their time in Hollywood and half in Chicago, and became permanent South Florida residents nine years ago.

It wasn’t until 2005 that Etta Stevens began researching her family on websites.

Last February, the sisters received documents from the Illinois Health Department saying their adoption records were now available if they wanted to see them.

Both said yes.

Six months later they got the papers in the mail.

Known family, it read: “Twin sister.”

“Tears were rolling down my face,” said Etta.

The documents came with her Sandi’s name and address. After a quick Internet search, Etta had a phone number.

She called immediately and left a message: “I suppose you’ve gotten the mail by now.”

Sandi said she was shocked when she heard the message.

“I hadn’t opened the mail yet,” she said. “It’s like someone dropped into my life from heaven.”

She called back.

“We talked; we cried; we talked; we cried,” said Etta.

Two weeks later, Etta was on a plane to Chicago to meet her sister in person.

They met at a restaurant and clicked right away.

So far, Sandi has met her nieces and Etta’s grandchildren, and there’s talk of a family reunion in June so Etta can meet her nieces and nephews and Sandi’s grandchildren.

“Both of our families reacted the same way,” said Sandi. “They said ‘I can’t believe there is another one of you out there.’”

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