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Mount Hood author collaborates on book with lost-and-found brother

Heather Nelson, Anthony Leonard write of how they found each other

Heather Nelson always thought she was the oldest of her four siblings — that is, until the age of 65 when her younger brother told her he received a letter from another country that changed their lives forever.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Heather Nelson, far right, Photoshopped childhood photos of her and her brothers to include Anthony Leonard in the familys memories.

Two years ago, Nelson, a Rhododendron resident, received word from an agency that Anthony Leonard, from Market Weighton, York, U.K., was looking to find information about her mother nearly 12 years after she died.

Nelson said her mother, who was born Heather Steadman Foster, told her children she worked as a nurse in England during World War II, when she met their father, Harrison Wheeler, an American GI. After the two fell in love, they made plans to marry if they both survived the war. They were apart for two years before he made enough money to bring her to the United States in 1946.

In 2013, after Nelson and her family made contact with Leonard, he told them he thought he was their older brother.

“Boy, did that keep me awake for a long time,” Nelson said.

Although Nelson dismissed the thought at first, research and tests proved that Leonard was indeed their mother’s son, and the Wheelers welcomed him into their family.

Two years after their reunion, Nelson, a seasoned author who has two children’s books in print, convinced Leonard to collaborate on a book about how their family came back together.

Their book, “Lost Family: FOUND!” was published by Outskirts Press in March.

With the appearance of their long-lost oldest brother, the newly formed family surmised their mother must have given birth to Leonard in England and given him up for adoption before moving to the United States.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Nelson and her friends and family give Leonard a framed copy of their new family photo

“It was a natural thing for me to try and find my birth parents ... It became quite an obsession with me,” Leonard said. “I had a personal yearning to find out who I was.”

Leonard had never quite fit in with his adopted family and was “gobsmacked” to learn he had another living in America. He had always wanted a sister, and Nelson soon learned he was the link her family had been missing for decades.

“Anthony, I really believe, has made us a more cohesive unit,” Nelson said, adding that Leonard had been so ecstatic to find his family that he endeared himself to the American siblings with ease. “You couldn’t help but want to have him as a brother.”

The family got to know each other through online visits via Skype.

Leonard first came to visit his new family in 2013. He met siblings, nieces, nephews and friends and rode a horse for the first time at Nelson’s ranch in the shadow of Mount Hood.

The idea to collaborate on “Lost Family: FOUND!” naturally evolved through the reunion.

“I had said, ‘Do you know Anthony, I think we should write a book about this.’ And we did. We did it, Anthony,” Nelson said to her brother through a magicJack connection.

“Another of your brilliant ideas,” replied Leonard with a laugh.

Nelson noted that spending a couple of months putting the pieces together was the least she could do, as Leonard had spent a lifetime searching for them.

Nelson said in writing the book, and sharing their memories, she and Leonard learned they shared similar aspects in the way they grew up.

The siblings said they felt a little cheated because of the time they had missed together, but know now they are on the right track.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Heather Nelson found out at age 65 that Anthony Nelson, of England, was her older brother.

“I’m still getting over the shock,” Leonard said, reiterating how thankful he was that his four younger siblings embraced him as part of the family.

As the reunited oldest siblings ended their phone visit, Leonard said to Nelson, “Once again, thank you for loving me.”

‘Lost Family: FOUND!,’ is a 123-page book written by Heather Nelson and Anthony Leonard about their journey to find each other.

It is available online at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. More information can be found at the book’s webpage at outskirtspress.com/lostfamilyfound.