"My dream to have a big family finally came true," says Phuong Doan, who hit it off with brother Juan Lewis when they met in person for the first time
Juan Lewis says a fevered COVID-fueled dream led him on a search for a brother he never knew he had, while Phuong Doan believes his late mother had something to do with the vision. But both are basking in the joy of finding each other — and marveling that they live so close to each other in Texas.
“I would pray to my mom, if you are somewhere, if you have anything you can do, help me find my dad’s side of the family,” Doan, 51, tells PEOPLE. “And I got that feeling when I heard from my brother. She helped me out.”
Lewis, who had retired from the Air Force in 2012, tells PEOPLE he was working in Germany for NATO in 2020 when he contracted COVID during the early stages of the pandemic. Lewis says he was near death and being treated in the hospital’s ICU with a mixture of experimental drugs. He was hallucinating and having vivid dreams while fighting for his life.
“I think only five of us made it out of ICU during that time frame,” Lewis, 57, tells PEOPLE. “And the five who made it out of there were in really, really, really bad shape.”
During his hospital stay he says he experienced “weird dreams about dying" as well as a recurring dream about a brother he didn’t know. Lewis did have an older brother, Andre, 62, and half-sisters through his mom’s second marriage, but he didn't have any other brothers.
“I said if I make it out of here, I’m going to explore that," Lewis recalls.
However, that exploration ended up taking a backseat to his recovery.
“When I got back to the States, I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn a lot of basic life functions,” Lewis says.
While Lewis was recovering, Doan was living in Minnesota and continuing his lifelong search for his American military police dad who had been stationed in Vietnam during the war.
"There's a lot of kids like me, half American, half Vietnamese, still over there," Doan says. "They are all dreaming of coming to what we call the father land."
My Extraordinary Family is PEOPLE's new series that explores fascinating families in all their forms. If you have a sweet story the world needs to know, send the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doan grew up in Vietnam with his mom and grandmother. His mom disclosed little about his father except they met while she worked security and he was an MP at the local military base Long Bein near Saigon.
After troops left Vietnam, there was a tremendous amount of animosity towards anything American, especially Amerasian children. Doan says his mom tried to shield him from both the government and the people who hated seeing anything American, especially the mixed race children left behind.
“My mom was afraid because the government didn’t want (the Amerasian children) and my mom can’t hide me all the time,” Doan says. “I look different from the kids in the neighborhood so it was very difficult for me. I just wanted to be with my dad. I prayed for that every day.”
When the Amerasian Homecoming Act was signed in December 1987, the new law allowed the children of American servicemen to come to the United States as immigrants, not refugees, and granted entry to those who had a Western appearance. They could also bring family members with them.
Doan’s mom filled out the paperwork and accompanied her son to the States. It took almost two years before their request was granted and they came to Rochester, Minnesota, on Aug. 12, 1990.
“I immediately wanted to go find my dad, but my mom got sick,” explains Doan, who says he was about 18 at the time. “She ended up at the hospital all the time, so we couldn’t look. Then my mom passed away.”
On his own in a new country, Doan says he had no way of finding his dad. He only had his father’s name from the immigration paperwork: Melvin Lewis.
Doan settled into his life in Minnesota, had three children, and still tried finding his father.
“When I turned 28, my son was born. Not long after that, my 2 daughters were born,” Doan says. “For many years, it was my dream to have a family. I wanted to find my dad’s side so I can have something about him that I can tell my kids”.
He joined a genealogy site and submitted his DNA, but heard nothing.
Meanwhile, Lewis had taken almost two years to recover from COVID. After remembering his dreams about a brother he decided to join the genealogy website and submit his DNA in the hopes of getting a hit.
“And lo and behold, it came back and said I had a match of a brother, but I thought they had made a mistake when I saw his name,” Lewis says. “I’m a type A military guy so I just called them and said this can’t be right. And they said no, it’s not mixed up. The results are right.”
He thought about the Vietnamese name that had popped up and thought about his father’s two tours of duty in Vietnam, one around the time of Doan’s birth. Lewis says he had “a lot of doubt,” but also a lot of curiosity.
He emailed Doan — who had recently moved to Texas to be near his fiancée Linda — and said that his DNA results indicated they were siblings. Doan messaged back saying he had been working with a genealogist and was trying to find his father.
“He said he’d been trying to find his dad for 50 years, but I still wasn’t sure I believed him,” Lewis admits. “Then we FaceTimed and I saw he was the spitting image of my dad. I didn’t need to know anything more to convince me.”
Then, Lewis had to tell Doan that their father had passed away in 1988.
“I didn’t really grow up with my dad, and he didn’t talk to me for two years after I joined the Air Force in 1984 instead of the Army,” Lewis says. “We didn’t have a good relationship.”
When he and Doan connected, he was surprised to learn his brother lived so close to him, just 7 miles away from where he went to high school.
The two hit it off immediately when they met in person on Sept. 3.
“When you are almost on your deathbed, you think about all your life events and things, maybe I wasn’t the best son and it was time to bury that,” Lewis says. “So now when I look at my brother, who looks just like my dad, it’s a second opportunity to rebuild a stronger relationship that I didn’t have with my dad but with my brother.”
Doan says he originally thought about 70 people might come to their wedding, but now they're looking for a place to accommodate all of his new family members.
“After many years of struggling to find my family, I finally found them,” Doan says. “This December, I’m getting married to my lovely soulmate Linda, and finally my dad’s side of the family will all be there with me. My dream to have a big family finally came true.”
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.