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Levittown man finds brother after decades-long search

Long-lost brothers Scott Appenzeller of Levittown, right, and

Long-lost brothers Scott Appenzeller of Levittown, right, and Michael Shapsha of Coconut Creek, Fla., meet for the first time at LaGuardia Airport in Queens on June 5, 2015. Credit: Rachael Funk

Levittown's Scott Appenzeller and brother Michael Shapsha pointed out which parts of the other's face belonged to their mother -- all the while discussing the grueling search for each other that took decades to complete.

That search ended on June 5 at LaGuardia Airport, when Appenzeller -- along with his wife and two children -- greeted an arriving Shapsha from Coconut Creek, Florida. Appenzeller, 51, finally met his big brother, and he and his whole family engulfed the 56-year-old Shapsha with beaming smiles and big hugs. 

The saga leading to this happy ending began in 1959 in Brooklyn. According to Appenzeller, following a secret pregnancy Shapsha's mother was forced to put him up for adoption, as her parents would not allow her to keep a baby out of wedlock.

When Shapsha turned 8, his adoptive parents, who were living in Yonkers, revealed to him that he was not their biological son. When Shapsha turned 16, his adoptive parents accompanied him to a court in Westchester to retrieve information about his family. Unfortunately, the court had sealed the records and he was unable to learn anything.

"All my birth certificate said was that I was born in New York City," Shapsha said.

An undeterred Shapsha registered with the New York State Department of Health in hopes of receiving contact information for his family. Nothing is released by the state until more than one family member registers.

In 1987, Shapsha and his adoptive family moved to Coconut Creek. Unbeknownst to Shapsha, his biological mother had also moved to Coconut Creek the same year and was living less than a mile away. During this time, Shapsha never found out how close he was to his biological mom.

"Our mother could have easily spoken to him or his family," Appenzeller said.

Meanwhile, Appenzeller was living in Levittown, unaware he had a brother. It was not until 1998, when their mother was ill, that she revealed Appenzeller was not her only son.

"She wanted to get it off her chest," Appenzeller said. "I don't know how she kept that secret so long."

Appenzeller began looking up everyone in the United States with the same name as Shapsha's biological father and called each person, with no luck.

In 2000, Shapsha and Appenzeller's mother died of breast cancer. Both men continued the search, and in 2008, Appenzeller filled out an Adoption Registry Form, provided by the New York State Department of Health.

The completed form was lost among Appenzeller's papers and was not rediscovered until this past April.

"We were looking in all the wrong places, I guess," Appenzeller said. "That damn form just needed to be stamped and notarized.

Promptly after the NYS Department of Health received Appenzeller's form, the state was able to obtain consent from both brothers and disclose information.

"They connected us right away," Shapsha said. "I got a letter saying 'a younger sibling is trying to contact you.' I never thought at this age it would finally happen."

Though they were only provided each other's name and address, on Mother's Day weekend, the two were finally able to make contact.

Both brothers agree they felt instantly connected the moment they started talking and tried to make up for lost time as much as possible leading to their meeting.

Though he will never have the opportunity to meet his biological mother, Shapsha is happy to have finally found his biological family.

"I feel like when [Appenzeller] sent a picture," Shapsha explained, "I met her."

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