Maryann Smith, RN, has heard all sorts of stories in her six years working in an outpatient skin cancer surgery clinic at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael.
Patients receive treatment over the entire day at the Mohs Surgery Clinic, sometimes for as long as 12 hours, so there’s plenty of opportunity to talk.
While moved by many people’s stories, she was motivated to take action after hearing about Frank Holland’s life.
“What a tragic story he had,” Smith said. “I just had to help him.”
Over the course of that day in April, he told her about his rough childhood, some of it spent in an orphanage, and that he had no family. His wife died eight years ago, and they didn’t have children.
The 83-year-old had a brother, John, a year older than he, but they had lost touch. The last Holland heard, his brother had joined the Navy—but that was 70 years ago. He had searched a few times over the years, but never could locate him.
Smith talked to Gabi Albrecht, a lab assistant across the hall who used to work as a private investigator. She agreed to help Holland find his brother.
When Smith told Holland about Albrecht, “He said, ‘That would be wonderful,’ and he started crying,” Smith recalled.
Albrecht offered to search for Holland’s brother because she liked the challenge and idea of helping him.
“I told him, ‘Payment is a picture of you together.’”
Holland admitted his memory might be rusty, but he provided a few key details, such as the names of their parents, the orphanage where he and his brother lived, and the year John joined the Navy.
“I didn’t think it could happen—the chances were slim to none,” Albrecht said. “Seventy years is a long time.”
Albrecht searched the Internet for John Holland using free searches and paid ones. She also contacted her former employer, who, as a private investigator, had access to a few other search databases.
After putting together a list of names, she started calling. On the sixth or seventh one, Albrecht hit the jackpot: She found John’s son, John, III, in Tennessee. John lives with his son.
“I called Frank and told him to sit down,” Albrecht said. Then she told him, “I found your brother.”
Albrecht also told him that his brother has five children, and they have children. Frank not only has a family, but he has a big family. Albrecht and Holland cried together for 10 minutes.
Smith and Albrecht have kept in touch with Holland over the past few months, and they both get teary-eyed over his emails, which repeatedly express joy at reconnecting Holland to his family and gratitude for helping him.
“Gabi deserves a medal,” Holland said. “If not a medal, she deserves some wings. She’s an angel.”
Mary Ann Pipe, a lab technician at KP San Rafael who has worked in the department for 17 years, said Smith and Albrecht are known for going above the call of duty for their patients—giving them their own lunches, buying them tea, and fetching medications at the pharmacy.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Pipe said, with her eyes welling up. “This changed his life completely.”
Holland just returned from visiting with his 84-year-old brother for two weeks in Tennessee. The brothers caught up, and Holland met nieces and nephews he never knew he had.
“It was an amazing feeling to help him,” Albrecht said. “I don’t think it was a big deal what I did, but it had a profound effect, and we changed people’s lives.”