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4 strangers find out they're half sisters and deal with bowel disease

Sisters with IBD: DNA test connected four women suffering with IBD
Sisters with IBD: DNA test connected four women suffering with IBD 02:13

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- When four complete strangers took at-home DNA tests, they never expected to find a new family.

 "I always wanted a sister and then to find out I have multiple sisters is just wild," said Nichole Bambanian.

After taking those tests, Anna, Nichole, Katie, and Kristin learned they were all half-sisters from the same sperm donor. 

They became friends fast and later learned they shared something else in common: all four of them suffer from ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. That's chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, the two conditions are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

"I remember messaging, 'does anyone else have IBD? because this is something I deal with,'" Anna Nevares of San Diego, Calif. said.

Friday was world Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day, meant to raise awareness about the condition that affects about 5 million people.  

Ulcerative colitis has made life difficult for all of them. 

"Going out to eat is just unbearable, and then always having to know where a restroom is, and it's very personal and embarrassing to explain to people," Bambanian said.

But after connecting, they weren't suffering alone. They shared medical advice and support.

"It was amazing, and such a blessing," said Kristin Geffen of Sun Valley, Idaho. "Having support and sisters you can talk to is just everything."

Dr. Feza Remzi, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at NYU Langone, treats 3 of the sisters. He performed a j-pouch procedure on two of them, which involves removing the colon and rectum.

"The patients' quality of life dramatically improved comparing to before," Remzi said. "It's a big deal when they don't have any need of urgency or incontinence."

Now these four continue the fight together.

"The amount of love that we have for one another is unreal," Bambanian said.

More than sisters, they're also each others support group. 

Doctors say there is a genetic connection with IBD, but studies show close to 80% of patients don't have a close relative with the disease.

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