Senior Heisler connects with half-siblings


Cozette Russo-Neale

In June of 2021, Mckenna Heisler (right) traveled to Tuscon, AZ to meet Abby Russell (left) for the first time. She stayed with Russel for close to five days, getting to know her new-found family.

Stella Mackler

As a child, senior Mckenna Heisler liked celebrating her family. Heisler was one of a small group of students with two mothers at Springdale Park Elementary School, and she thought she had the “coolest” family.
“I remember when I was little and in class on Mother’s Day, the whole class was making Mother’s Day cards, and I was always bragging to everybody that I got to make two,” Heisler said.
Heisler is donor-conceived, which means her biological father was a sperm donor. Heisler’s biological father donated his sperm anonymously; so, there was a very low chance Heisler would ever meet him.
“All I knew was from this form: his favorite color, what his job was and what his family was like,” Heisler said.
However, that all changed in June 2019 when Heisler took a mission trip to Puerto Rico with her church.
“My church is very accepting of the LGBTQ+ community,” Heisler said. “A lot of other families there also have two moms. I went on a mission trip with another girl who has two moms, and she was telling me how she had a sperm donor, as well, and she was talking about how she met some of her half-siblings. I never thought that could even happen until I talked to her.”
After this conversation, Heisler decided she wanted to try and find her own half-siblings, and maybe even her biological father.
“First, my mom helped me put all my information onto the website where they first got my sperm donor,” Heisler said. “A lot of my half-siblings already did this, I think there were ten of them that had already put their email on there. So, I just went on that website and started reaching out.”
Heisler has since met two of her half sisters, Abby Russell, a 19-year old volleyball player at the University of Arizona, and Cozette Russo-Neale, who is also 19 and lives in Boston. Heisler met Russo-Neale first while she was touring Emory University. In the summer of 2021 Russell invited Heisler and Russo-Neale to stay with her in Arizona.
“When I met them, it was the craziest thing,” Heisler said. “It’s like deja vu, like you’ve seen them, and you just click.”
Russo-Neale shared a similar experience.
“When I met Mckenna, it was like this automatic connection,” Russo-Neale said. “We started talking like we had known each other for years.”
Russo-Neale was raised as an only child, but when she met Heisler, it was as if they’d grown up together.
“I always wanted a sister,” Russo-Neale said.
Russell was raised as an only child by a single mother. Unlike Heisler, Russell began her search for her siblings with a DNA test.
“I don’t have any blood siblings, it is just my mom and my grandpa,” Russell said. “It’s so strange to grow up without any siblings and then, all the sudden, you have some, but it was so cool. I genuinely feel like I’ve known Mckenna my entire life.”
The three sisters have all gotten in contact with their sperm donor and biological father through email. At California Cryobank, the site used by their sperm donor, donors make a small profile about themselves, including minimal, vague details, such as their favorite color. Upon reaching age 18, any child has the right to request more information about their donor and/or contact them.
“First, we got a picture of him,” Heisler said. “I was in the car with my friend when I saw it, and I remember I started crying; there were so many emotions.”
A meeting that Heisler once thought was impossible is now in the works. Since connecting with her half-siblings, Heisler learned that both Russell and Russo-Neale had attempted to contact their biological father.
“I actually reached out,” Russell said. “I emailed him, and then he emailed me back, and now we’re gonna probably plan on meeting up over the summer.”
Heisler’s intentions were never centered on meeting her biological father. She was focused on creating relationships with her newly-found siblings. However, her siblings were able to make meeting their father a real possibility.
“Since I was little, I never thought I’d be able to meet him,” Heisler said. “He is not a part of my life. He just gave me the gift of this life. That is how my parents always described it. He wanted my parents to be able to have a family. He didn’t do it to be a father.”
Going through the process of forming relationships with her half-siblings has influenced Heisler’s outlook on life.
“The fact that they didn’t even really know me, but they were so welcoming and accepting of everything about me, it really made me question like, ‘Why don’t we all treat each other like that?’” Heisler said. “Obviously, being half-sisters brings greater meaning to our relationship but still, why don’t we all treat each other like that, like we are each other’s long lost half-siblings.”