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Episode 4: Starting over

We've all had to start over. Whether that means moving to a new city, leaving a job, or recovering from an illness, it’s tough to start from scratch. But embracing the unknown can lead to new perspectives. In this episode of Relate, you’ll hear from a man who was attacked by a white supremacist shortly after 9/11, which led him to find new meaning in his life... and in the life of his assailant.

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Transcript

SPEAKER: I lost my job pretty suddenly, so that was definitely a moment where I kind of had to figure out what I was gonna do next.

SPEAKER: We had a, I guess you'd call it a home invasion and, I lost everything.

TAMARA STANNERS: I started over in life when I decided to stop doing drugs and became a drug and alcohol counselor.

SPEAKER: I was moving from Tokyo, Japan and I had to rebuild my friendships, my social life. It was very challenging for me, really difficult.

TAMARA STANNERS: So, as you might've guessed this episode of Relate is all about starting over. Think back to a time in your life where everything came to a screeching halt. You lost a job or maybe you moved to a new city and you had to rethink everything about your life. I mean, it happens to everyone, but not everyone deals with these big moments the same way. Coming up on the Relate podcast you're going to hear an unbelievable story of a skydiving trip that did not go well at all. There's the story of a doctor from Pittsburgh who went searching for a family she never knew. And then there's the story of Rais Bhuiyan. I'm not even gonna tell you what he went through now, but the way he rebuilt his life is so inspiring.

SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate.

SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.

SPEAKER: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.

SPEAKER: For better customer relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zendesk. It's a show all about relationships. Old ones, new ones, and some that are totally unlikely. We're gonna start off with the relationship that is clearly one of attacker and victim and it's intense, but I think you'll be amazed by how the relationship changes over time.

RAIS BHUIYAN: I left my family and my fiance back home to get the education I wanted and to experience the American dream. I lived there for a couple of years and then I moved to Dallas right before 9/11.

TAMARA STANNERS: Rais Bhuiyan found work at a gas station in a rough part of town. In August he was held up at gunpoint. A man put a gun to his temple and demanded all the money. Then, September 11th happened. Across America there's a spike in hate crimes against Muslims. Then, on Friday, September 21st Rais is at work at the gas station. It's about 12:30 in the afternoon. It's raining outside.

RAIS BHUIYAN: Business is pretty slow. Suddenly I see a customer is walking wearing bandana, sunglasses, baseball cap, and holding a double barrel shotgun. He walks in and I was pretty afraid since I was robbed in the past in the same gas station. I offer him the money. He is not looking at the money, he's looking at me directly. He mumbles a question, "Where are you from?" I'm panicked. I'm very much concerned that why he needs to know where am I from. I say, "Excuse me." And then I hear the sound. The big explosion. He shot me from four to five feet away. It feels like a millions of bees is stinging my face and I scream very loudly, "Mom."

TAMARA STANNERS: Rais decided that he has to pretend he's dying so that this man won't shoot him again. The attacker finally leaves and Rais manages to get someone in the shop next door to call 9-1-1. He's rushed to hospital.

RAIS BHUIYAN: My brain was shutting down, I could not see anything clearly, I could not even think, and was very afraid. I thought I was dying and at the same time images of my mother, my father, my siblings, and fiancee appeared before my eyes and then a graveyard.

TAMARA STANNERS: A few hours after he was shot, Rais lost consciousness and was placed on life support. He had more than three dozen shotgun pellets lodged in his body. He lost vision in one eye. He was at a private hospital and he had no insurance, so he was discharged the next morning.

RAIS BHUIYAN: With that, the second part of my American nightmare just began. I lost home cause I couldn't work and no longer pay rent. My father suffered a stroke when he heard what had happened to me and, um, I lost my sense of security and, uh, developed some sorts of fear that if I go outside somebody would shoot me. So, anytime I went outside I kept looking over my shoulder. I got more than $60,000 in medical bills and I reached out to Red Cross hoping that they would help me to cover my medical bills, but after several communications with them finally they told me I qualified for one week’s worth of grocery. I also lost my fiance. She was under the impression that I would never be able to go back home. So, at some point she moved on and married somebody else.

TAMARA STANNERS: The man who shot Rais was a white supremacist with a history of violence and armed robberies. His name was Mark Stroman and he went on a shooting rampage after 9/11, killing two men and severely injuring Rais Bhuiyan.

RAIS BHUIYAN: He told the news media that what he did most Americans wanted to do, but didn't have the guts. He claimed he's a patriot, he's a true American, and he said America was no place for Muslims. Well, when this incident happen I was completely shocked. I couldn't believe that I would become a victim of a hate crime in my dream country and it totally destroyed my life.

TAMARA STANNERS: After a brief trial Mark Stroman was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

RAIS BHUIYAN: And I was told to move on with my own life and there shouldn't be any kind of communication with Mark or with his family or with his association.

TAMARA STANNERS: In 2009, Rais is getting his life on track. He's paid down his debts and is able to make the pilgrimage to Mecca with his mother.

RAIS BHUIYAN: We stayed there for a month and prayed almost 14 to 15 hours per day. And asking God that why did you save my life? And why did you bring me to Mecca? And what am I supposed to do with this life? And I was asking for God's guidance to keep my promise that I made on my death bed that if I get a chance to live I would do good things with my life. And I kept thinking about the shooting incident and I thought about Mark Stroman as well who had been sitting on a death row for several years. And I- I felt for him and I- I realized that by killing him we will lose simply a human life without dealing with the root cause. I- I deeply realized that--that hate and revenge may bring temporary satisfaction, but they never bring peace or solution to any situation. They only bring more disaster and misery. I came back as a changed person. I felt my heart was changed. My heart was replaced with someone else's heart and I was thinking why people commit crime, become violent, kill others? What can we do to stop this madness to save human lives?

TAMARA STANNERS: When he returned to Dallas, Rais started to look into local human rights campaigns. He began volunteering.

TAMARA STANNERS: And he began to connect with the activist community.

RAIS BHUIYAN: And I was introduced with more people and I explained my desire to save Mark Stroman's life. And then, we started a campaign at the end of 2010.

TAMARA STANNERS: Rais made many requests to try to meet Stroman in person.

RAIS BHUIYAN: But, unfortunately it was denied again and again.

TAMARA STANNERS: The appeals for a stay of execution were repeatedly denied. Then, just one month before Mark Stroman's scheduled execution Rais receives a letter.

RAIS BHUIYAN: I wanted to read it when everything is quiet. So, I read the letter at 1:00 am.

MARK STROMAN: Dear Rais, my stepfather taught me some lessons that I should never have learned. I've unlearned some of them and I'm still working on some of them. I don't know who your parents were but obviously they're wonderful people to lead you to act this way to forgive someone who you have every right to hate.

RAIS BHUIYAN: And when I was lying on my bed, I was thinking that I'm a free man in a free world going to bed at night. And there's another human being I came to know. I ... you know, we interacted in a pretty terrible way. Also going to bed at night but in a different environment because he did something pretty bad. And pretty soon, his life will come to an end.

TAMARA STANNERS: Stroman was scheduled to die on July 20th, 2011. Appeals are launched and denied. Rais continues to try to speak with Stroman, always denied. Then something unexpected happens. Rais gets a call.

MARK STROMAN: Rais? How are you doing, Rais? Man, thank you for everything you're trying to do for me, man. You are inspiring. Thank you from my heart, dude.

RAIS BHUIYAN: Mark, I forgive you and I don't hate you. I never hated you.

MARK STROMAN: Thank you for- for being such an awesome person. I mean that.

RAIS BHUIYAN: You will be always there.

MARK STROMAN: Thank you. Hey, say ... you- you've touched my heart. I- I wouldn't never have expected ...

RAIS BHUIYAN: And then he told me, "I love you, bro." And as soon as he said that, I could not hold my tears. I- I became very emotional that this is the same human being who shot me in the face and killed two others because his heart was filled with hate and ignorance. And now he was able to see me as his brother and that he said, "Rais ... you know, they are calling me. I have to go." They were taking him near the execution chamber and that's how this conversation ended. He was in- in peace before he was executed and he felt love from different people from all over the world. He left the world as a peaceful person, not as an angry man.

TAMARA STANNERS: Rais has now dedicated his life to a world without hate. That's the name of the nonprofit he started.

RAIS BHUIYAN: It is pretty sad that, you know, what we are seeing in the world right now, all kinds of hatred and bigotry, it seems that we are going backward. I mean, instead of painting 1.5 billion Muslims with the same brush and that's what Mark Stroman did. He didn't see me as an individual person, as a human being. He saw me a Muslim and he painted me with the same paint brush he used to paint those 9/11 terrorists, those who committed a crime. I'm always hopeful. No matter how long is the night, there is a morning. I pray every single day that all this rhetoric will not only cause, you know, pain and suffering but that it also help open up a lot of human hearts.

SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate.

SPEAKER: By Zendesk.

SPEAKER: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, so we're going to move from one heart-palpitating story to another. And this time, the drama unfolds at high altitude. And really, it's a story about being given a second chance at life against all odds and against the law of gravity.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: Skydiving was something that I wanted to do for a long time. I always loved roller coasters, loved doing fun, exciting things and it was just something I wanted to do for a long time.

TAMARA STANNERS: This is Carol Murray Rodriguez.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I would describe my life as someone that had just turned 24 and was figuring out what she wanted to be and what she wanted to do in the world. I really liked just doing fun, thrill-seeking things. It felt freeing in a way when I did a big jump thing one time. And it just felt just so freeing that I'd never felt before and it just looked really intriguing to me.

TAMARA STANNERS: It was almost 20 years ago. Carol and her then boyfriend, Ian, had started dating just a few months before. It was his birthday and they decided to celebrate it by going skydiving but things didn't go according to plan.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I remember the rain. It rained and rained and rained. And it was the day of Lady Diana's funeral, so I remember hearing that on the radio and the talk was all around. We were both so incredibly tired because we were up late the night before. So it rained so much so that were about eight of us that were jumping that day for the first time on our own, not in tandem ... that by the time we were able to jump, it was getting to late afternoon and early evening. We didn't have anywhere to go so we said, "You guys go ahead. We can go last." We then made it to the plane and we were about to get in and they told us it was too late. We had to come back the next morning. So we come back again early the next morning and we went up in the plane and we couldn't get enough altitude, so we had to land in the plane. And at that point, I said this is ... you know, this ... I have to listen to my instinct here. I don't think I'm supposed to be doing this.

TAMARA STANNERS: And there were more troubling signs that caught Carol's attention.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: They were re-packing the parachutes and they had a 12-year-old son who was helping them pack the parachutes. And I remember thinking that that was really bizarre. And I went to them and I said, "Why is your kid packing parachutes?" And they're like, "Oh, no. He's trained and he knows what he's doing." Looking back now, I wish I would have had more confidence to say this is just wrong. I'm getting out of here.

TAMARA STANNERS: Carol had her doubts but she decided to go through with it.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I don't have tons of memories from the day. I remember being at the parachute school. I remember hanging around and waiting but my mind has completely shut off. I have no recollection ever ... I never have of getting in the van to go to the plane. I don't have ... I don't remember getting in the plane. I don't remember jumping. I only remember falling. So the first thing that I remember is panic and I think it's related to the sound because I wore a one-way radio. So they could not hear me on the ground but there was a coach on the ground that would speak to me. And they taught us, throughout the day, the things to listen for and- and what you would do. And all I heard the guy saying was, "Look, thumb, pull." And that meant I look to my left and you pull with your right thumb and you pull the reserve chute. And then the first chute is supposed to fly away and the reserve will come out. So I remember feeling the wind was tugging my body around and around and it was really forceful. I don't remember seeing anything but I remember hearing this man yell, "Look, thumb, pull. Look, thumb, pull."

SPEAKER: Look, thumb, pull.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: And every time he said it, his voice was screeching more and more-

SPEAKER: Look, thumb, pull. Look, thumb, pull.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: And I could tell by what I was feeling that things weren't right. And certainly by his voice, it gave me a huge sense of panic.

SPEAKER: Look, thumb, pull.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I could tell that something was really definitely wrong. And I just remember my body relaxing and fainting and saying, "Oh, God. I'm gonna die." In my mind, I remember fainting but the police reports say otherwise. The witnesses heard me screaming all the way down. It probably wasn't long. I know that it was 3,200 feet and I know that I hit the ground at 90 kilometers an hour. And I know that my right leg and my femur came right out and pummeled right three and a half inches into the ground.

TAMARA STANNERS: Carol's chute didn't open and her backup chute failed too. The instructor testified after that she half-flipped in the air when she jumped out and maybe that's why her chutes got tangled and failed. She says now she doesn't think it matters why it happened, just that it did.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: And then the next thing I remember... I had memories of paramedics telling me to wiggle my toes and saying, "Good girl, you can wiggle your toes." And I woke up in the hospital probably 12 to 16 hours later. And I just remember waking up and saying, "Oh, my God. I'm alive." I felt this overwhelming feeling. It was this really weird sense that I've never felt before that just tingled right through me. I couldn't believe that ... I couldn't believe I was alive and they told me my injuries. And at the time, they thought I'd be okay in 6 to 12 weeks.

TAMARA STANNERS: The doctors were wrong, it took much longer. That initial prognosis of six to 12 weeks, turned into years of surgeries and interventions. Carol had broken both femurs, she'd broken her pelvis, several ribs, chipped a vertebrae, punctured a lung. She had a concussion and stitches in her chin, from the strap of the helmet. Within days of the accident, Carol developed an infection in the right leg. It was so bad, doctors thought they would have to amputate. Finally, the surgeons tried something that had never been done on such a large segment of bone. They removed about six inches of Carol's femur and overtime her right leg rebuilt itself. It was a medical miracle but it was also disturbing to Carol's sense of herself and her body.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I just remember waking up in my room and being terrified, feeling that something wasn't right. I felt mutilated. I felt almost inhuman in some ways. I almost disassociated myself from my leg because I would move myself and then someone would come move my leg.

TAMARA STANNERS: It was one of the hardest stretches in a long road to recovery. A few months later, she was able to leave the hospital. She says it took about another year and a half before she was able to walk with a cane.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: And I think it probably could have been quicker but I was terrified. I, I had images of putting full weight on my leg and the whole thing crashing down. Like emotionally I wasn't ready. I had aqua-therapy like four days a week. So, I walked in the pool first and then in shallower and shallower water. And I remember the first day that I did it with a cane, outside the water, instead of a crutch. I felt so free. I felt so free. I I went home and wept. I went home and thought, "Oh my god, I'm going to be able to do it." I was then able to start you know, getting myself to try to start looking for jobs and go back on my own again.

TAMARA STANNERS: On her own again because one of the relationships that didn't survive her accident, was her relationship with Ian. They separated three years later, when they were both 27. Carol had recovered by then, from the broken bones and all the procedures that she'd gone through. But now, alone, she faced the fundamental question, why did she survive?

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: I did feel that, I must be alive for a reason and I owed it to myself to work on that and to see what that reason was.

TAMARA STANNERS: Carol was purposeful about the career she chose after her accident.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: So I'm a professional fundraiser. So and I work on the business side of nonprofit. And we help women in all areas of their lives for equality to live in a positive atmosphere and to have livable wages. To have childcare, to have housing, to have support. All those things that are needed. And it's really important to me. It's really, I think, part of my identity. Yeah, the accident actually gave me a lot of confidence, in many things in my life. Because I would say, if I can do that, I can certainly do this. It allowed me to understand, uh, the importance of trying things. And to look at the reasons why to go ahead and try to do something as opposed to letting those obstacles get in my way.

TAMARA STANNERS: These days Carol is reflecting on the meaning of her life. And how the world might have been different had she not survived.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: Well, it's really interesting because we were just talking about my family in Cuba and that's what I think of first, in everything that we do for them. And my husband, who I met, who's from the middle of nowhere in Cuba. I think of their lives and how their lives would still be really impoverished. And, um, not as much hope as they have now and even the whole extended family. So, they're the first thing that comes to mind because of, we've really been able to change their lives. I wouldn't have been there. Oh god, this is a hard one. Probably my nieces and my nephew, I have a good relationship with them. My mom, if I would have died, it would of been the second child she lost. I think I'm a person that does a lot for people and, and I do my part in the world. But I, what wouldn't not have, would of been missing, I think it made you know, I don't think anything really significant. But for my family it would have been, definitely, definitely for my family. I couldn't imagine that.

TAMARA STANNERS: September 7th 2017, will mark 20 years since Carol's accident.

CAROL RODRIGUEZ: You caught me at a really weak time because normally I don't get upset talking about it but you know, once 2017 hit, I said, "Oh my god, it's gonna be 20 years." And again, I feel like, in some ways I feel like I have a debt because I want to make changes and, and be even better. And being honest with people if they've said or did something that makes me uncomfortable. Instead of just letting it happen and not telling them, I just want things to be straight and better. It's more about me this year, yeah. I'm using it as an opportunity to I don't know, to tune up myself. But for me yeah, death is a part of life. And I'm trying to have a healthier relationship with it but I'm not afraid of it. I'm not afraid of it. Just make the best of it while you're here.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, so most of us don't have to face our own mortality in such a traumatic way. But we are all confronted with situations where we have to start over, in work, sometimes with our family, maybe in a new community. We've got tips for making the most of these sorts of situations. Including a story on “The Pivot Method” and how you can plan a career or life-shift more effectively. Check out the blog at Relate.Zendesk.com.

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.

SPEAKER: Zendesk helps your business turn interactions into lasting relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: Starting over is the theme of this episode of Relate. And I want you to imagine that there's someone out there in the world that you've never met. You don't know their name. You don't know what they look like but you are connected to this person in some fundamental way. I bet you'd want to meet them, right? Well, have a listen to this story about a doctor in Pittsburgh, who set out on a quest to find a family she'd never met. Michelle Rathgeb lives just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She always knew that she was going to be a doctor.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: It's funny, I've known forever. I mean, I can't even trace back. For sure, I remember talking about it in 1st grade.

TAMARA STANNERS: Michelle's home life was great growing up. Although she never really felt that she fit in with her parents and sisters and brother. She always knew she'd been adopted, so she felt that there was something missing in her life. It took the birth of her son to crystallize that feeling.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: When I had my son particularly and he was born in 2003. When I had him, he looks a lot like me and we don't look like anyone else that we know. So, that really ... I said, "My god, who do we look like?"

TAMARA STANNERS: Call it a genealogical itch that just had to get scratched. Her first step was to go to the people who handled her adoption, Catholic Charities and request whatever information they could provide.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: I remember going to the mailbox. I remember seeing this thick envelope with Catholic Charities and I totally ripped into it right away. I really did, I could not put it down. I could not stop reading it. I reread it over and over again, thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is my first information." This is non-identifying information regarding your mother and your father. It, it was unbelievable to read. Just to have something about them, something tangible. You know because I had known nothing. It mentioned their ages. It mentioned their height, their weight, their hair color, their eye color, how many siblings they had.

TAMARA STANNERS: It was equal parts a lot and not nearly enough. The appetizer that lets you know how hungry you really are. And she wanted more so, the nuns who run Catholic Charities, put her in touch with a group called, Worldwide Tracers. Their rule was, if they could find your parents and if the parents wanted to contact the child, they'd get everyone in touch. It took several months until another letter arrived. This time, a thin letter.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: I remember rejection letters from medical school being thin so I was not happy about getting a thin letter. But I opened it up and it, it actually said “we, you know we regret to inform you that your father had passed away in 2006, but we are able to give you his name.” And they said George F. Carey, and I'm like, "Wow, I have a name. Oh, my God, I have a name."

TAMARA STANNERS: She also had a lead, a starting point.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: He was an attaché, he worked for the government, he lived over in Poland. That he was a colonel in the United States Air Force. I mean, all this kind of neat stuff. But I could not find an address. It was kind of a generic name, so when you would Google up, George. F. Carey, as well, there were, you know, tons, and tons, and tons of names that would come up. I remember though distinctly being very sad that he had passed away. You know, he passed away in 2006, it's 2007. My God, I missed this search by a year.

TAMARA STANNERS: But, she kept looking for other members of her family. It turned into something of a hobby. Michelle and her team of detectives that soon included her husband Matt and even their nanny, scoured the internet for any links to her family. Eventually, they found an obituary for a man who might have been her grandfather. It seems like that would be a dead end, but it wasn't. The brief writeup yielded a trove of names. You know how obits always say, "The departed is survived by." Well, those are the people they went looking for. They decided to focus on one relative with a unique name and when they found her, or thought they did, Michelle wrote a letter to the woman she hoped would be her aunt.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: You know, there were so many thoughts going through my head like, "Maybe she doesn't even know. Maybe no one knows about me." You know, they gave me up for adoption, he was in college, probably tried to keep it secret, so I thought, "Oh my God, I could be exploding things here."

TAMARA STANNERS: Michelle never heard back and there were other setbacks. They went up to the school where her dad had gone to college to try to get a photo, only to find that the year he graduated there was no yearbook published. But then, on a whim they tried another name.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: Sometimes we would just be sitting in the study at night and Matt would say, "Hey, you know, let's, let's bring up some names, let's see what we can find," and sometimes we would just start Googling and for some reason one night we go to the obituary, we're looking at it again, and he said, "Let's just type in Kristin Carey." I said, "Oh my gosh, that name, I mean six bazillion people are going to come up," and Matt's like, "Oh my God, you have got to see this picture." He goes, "Michelle, um, whoa," and I walk over and I'm like, "Oh my God," because there was something about our eyes, something about our upper face, cheek area. I said, "Oh my gosh, there's really a resemblance. This ... " I said, "No way, this can't be."

KRISTIN CAREY: You know, you look at your phone (phone sound) and scrolling through and it, it said a Dr. Michelle Rathgeb and I thought, "I don't know who that was," and I thought it was an ad for Botox, or, you know, you get those crazy ass ads, right?

TAMARA STANNERS: This is Kristin Carey.

KRISTIN CAREY: For some reason I just clicked on it and, uh, read this beautiful letter claiming that this woman and I shared a father. So I was just ... I sat there for a second and I said, "Well, maybe my dad ... " My dad was really, um, a lady's man, let's say, and maybe he had had another girlfriend before my mom, maybe he had cheated on my mom, because they were college sweethearts. I didn't know. So I called my mom and I said, "Hey, I got this email from this woman, this doctor in Pennsylvania that, that we share the same father. Do you know if dad had a girlfriend, or an affair?" You know, and my mom said, "No." And I said, "Oh, that's weird." And for some reason something popped into my head, I got to tell you, it's that surreal slow-motion kind of thing, and I just said to my mom, I said, "Is this your and dad's kid?" And she said, "No," and I knew from the tone of her voice, I could hear it, that she was lying and then she started crying. My father's family did not want them to have the baby and would not pay for him to finish college if they did. They must've both been about 19, and my mom came from a poor family, and they didn't want to take responsibility, and so they went to Catholic charities and my mom lived there, and had the baby there.

TAMARA STANNERS: The painful irony here is that when Kristin was a kid, all she ever wanted was a sibling.

KRISTIN CAREY: I grew up an only child and I hated every single day of it, I can't even tell you. It was ... It's a sore subject, I used to ask my parents every Christmas for a brother or sister, every single Christmas I would ask, and I would get, you know, a pogo stick, or Atari, or Merlin, or Simon, or any games you can play by yourself I got.

TAMARA STANNERS: But now, with a prospect of actually getting her wish, Kristin could barely contain herself.

KRISTIN CAREY: I felt this incredible desperate need, I had to email this woman back and tell her that I was her full blood sister, not her half sister and that her mother was here.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: I always go down really early in the morning to do my business stuff. I look at my banking and I brought up my email and it said, "Kristin Carey," and I, and I'm not a hokey dramatic person, but I was literally having palpitations. And I opened the email and she said, "Wow, I've always- ... " I'll never forget the first sentence. She said, um, "Wow, I've always wanted a sister and here you are."

TAMARA STANNERS: The email led to a phone call, several phone calls, several long phone calls, and then a trip to Hollywood for Michelle and her family to meet a sister she never knew she had, and a mother she never thought she'd see.

DENNIS: Okay, here we are guys. We're at the airport.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: At the airport.

DENNIS: The girls are nervous and then that's where they're coming out, right from there.

TAMARA STANNERS: Here's sound from a video that Kristin's boyfriend, Dennis, recorded. It's the moment that the two sisters met for the first time.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: Oh.

KRISTIN CAREY: Hi.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: Oh my God.

TAMARA STANNERS: But here's the thing, Michelle had actually seen her sister before. In the Farrelly brother's movie, Hall Pass, though she didn't realize it at the time.

TAMARA STANNERS: Kristin Carey is a Hollywood actor, which is one of the main reasons why Michelle was able to find her. It's why Kristin's name and photo showed up in that Google search. The two women are now as inseparable as people living at opposite ends of the country can get. They talk every week, see each other at least a few times every year.

KRISTIN CAREY: We laughed about every- ... We are so similar, it's kind of freaky and we walk the same, we laugh the same. People that have known me for years, 20, 30 years they're freaked out because how similar we are, and so genetics are pretty powerful. We're both left-handed. We have this thing called myasthenia, I don't know if she talked about it, we have this sensitivity to sounds and we share it. Like people eating too loudly. I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but we share ... And I always thought I was crazy.

MICHELLE RATHGELB:: I mean, it has truly changed my life. I mean I don't want to sound cliché and say, you know, it puts all the pieces together and there's that missing part, but it really, really does.

KRISTIN CAREY: No, I don't have any resentment. I wish we all could have been one happy family, but I told Michelle, she might not have been the woman she is. She wouldn't have met her husband, she wouldn't have the kids. It's like, you change one thing about your past, everything changes for your future.

TAMARA STANNERS: The sisters found each other just in time for Michelle to be Kristin's maid of honor at their beachfront wedding. Because sometimes, even stories that start in Pittsburgh get a real Hollywood ending. That's it for Relate this time around. In two weeks we'll have an episode for you on failure. Now, I know failure might sound like something to avoid at all costs, but it's actually a key component to success. I'll tell you why next time. Subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts so you don't miss out. For more articles on connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit Relate.Zendesk.com. And if you want to explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to Zendesk.com for a free trial. I'm Tamara Sanders, talk to you soon.

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