Most of us are all too aware of our family's medical history, whether it's an aunt who endured breast cancer or a tendency to dementia in later life. And while it may be a little unnerving, it also means we can take steps to stay as healthy as possible.
But for some adopted people, that vital knowledge can be impossible to find out until it's too late.
Amanda Davidson, 50, a chemical export co-ordinator from Newport, Shropshire, says: “I’d always been very happy with my adoptive parents and had never felt the need to trace my birth mother and father.”
But at 45, she had a heart attack out of the blue in 2016. It was so unexpected, she didn't recognise what it was when she suffered chest pains walking to the local pub with a friend.
“I’d just felt like I had a bit of a trapped nerve between my shoulder blades during the day and I couldn’t get comfy," she says. "No way did I think I was having a heart attack.
“I was sweating a lot," she recalls. "In the pub, I decided I wasn’t feeling very well and was going home.”
“My friend came with me, as she was worried and said she was going to call our local 111 phone line, and tell them my symptoms.
“They told her to call 999 as it sounded like I was having a heart attack and they were right,
In hospital for four days, Davidson was fitted with a stent to stop her artery from narrowing. The following January, she also had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fitted – to treat people with dangerously abnormal heart rhythms.
While recovering, Davidson decided to look into her family health history, joining a DNA site in the hope of finding out more about her genetic health history.
She knew she was half Eastern European and laughs: “My adoptive dad used to tease me nicely, saying that maybe I was a Russian princess.
“I was very happy, so had not tried to find my birth parents. I knew my mother must have had a valid reason for giving me away.”
Joining the site, however, Davidson forgot to tick the 'no contact' box on the form. Soon after, her biological dad - Stefan, 73, - an engineer – got in touch, having also forgotten to tick the box.
“It was amazing, as he told me he was my dad and it turned out he was living just 40 miles away.
“Both my birth parents were born in the UK, but my mum’s parents and my dad’s father were Ukrainian.
“She had given me away as my dad wasn’t the person she went on to share her life with.”
The contact led to an emotional meeting with her bio-family..
“Not only did I get to meet half-sisters on his side, but I also met my mum’s family, which was amazing – although, sadly, everyone, my dad included, is camera shy!" she adds. "My adoptive parents have really supported our relationship and it hasn’t altered my love for them in any way.”
Astonishingly, she also discovered that Stefan had suffered a heart attack at 39.
"I had a hereditary health problem.”
Determined to get well, in May 2017 Davidson received an insurance payment enabling her to settle her mortgage and decided to leave work to focus on her health.
“I was a sales and marketing manager for an export company - I wasn’t overly stressed, but I needed to get myself mentally and physically well,” she said.
In July 2017 she joined WeightWatchers.
“When I had my ICD fitted I was weighed for my records, but it was in kilograms and it didn’t mean anything to me. But I converted it online and realised I was 18-and-a-half stone, which was massive."
After losing some weight alone, she adds, "I was 17st 7lb when I joined”.
But though Davidson managed to ditch her 20 a day smoking habit, she struggled to keep up attendance at the Weight Watchers meetings, and rejoined, more determined, in March 2020.
"This time I was really serious and I've lost another four stone," she says.
One of the biggest markers of her success was the day she wore same dress as Amanda Holden.
She had first spotted the dark blue belted shirt dress, with an orange flower print, when she was a size 26 and bought it when she was still much too heavy to wear it.
“It’s a fabulous dress. I bought it last July, with a view to fitting into it by November and wearing it to celebrate my 50th birthday that month.”
“But my birthday was the day before lockdown and it was still a little tight.
“Now I have no problem getting into it and I wore it to a belated get together with friends when restrictions were lifting in May. It felt fabulous.”
Altogether Davidson has lost six stone and is currently a size 14-16.
She says, “I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
“I was even smoking on the way to the pub while I was having a heart attack and I’ve licked that. I’ve lost all this weight and I’ve found a whole new family – as Stefan has three children.
“I’ll never forget when we first met and we were talking to someone with a two-year-old daughter. I heard him saying, ‘This is my eldest,’ and I suddenly realised he meant me.”
"I’d never have expected a heart attack to lead to me finding a new body and a new family at the same time!”
Watch: Daytime naps once or twice a week can be good for your heart, study finds