Tracy Antonelli always knew she wanted to adopt children — she just never thought she’d find three little girls with the exact same blood disorder that she has.
When Antonelli saw Emmie, now 7, on an adoption advocacy website in 2011, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The little girl from southern China has transfusion-dependent thalassemia, a rare genetic condition affecting up to 2,000 people in the U.S. and up to 500,000 people worldwide.
“Not only was she adorable, but we both had thalassemia,” Antonelli, 43, tells PEOPLE. “From that moment, it became my life’s work to make her my daughter.”
Antonelli and her husband, Patrick Mooty, flew to China to pick up Emmie in 2012 and bring her home to Arlington, Massachusetts. And after discovering a prevalence of children in southern China with thalassemia, the couple adopted two more girls with the disorder — Rosie, 6, and Frannie, 3.
“It’s a miracle I found them all from across the world,” says Antonelli. “We all went from strangers to being bonded for life.”
A part of that bond is rooted in their disease, which requires them to receive life-saving tri-weekly blood transfusions that the girls weren’t previously getting in China.
“We’d get reports saying their hemoglobin levels were dangerously low,” says Antonelli. “We did everything we could to get them home quickly.”
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Without access to blood, thalassemia patients can experience critical anemia or even death.
“They could have died in childhood without access to transfusions,” their physician and a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Dr. Daniel Bauer, tells PEOPLE. “They could have been at risk for serious complications.”
Now Antonelli makes sure her daughters receive proper treatment and MRI monitoring at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s.
“I think it was a little bit of fate that brought us together,” she says. “We didn’t know that part of our family was on the other side of the world.
“But now we’re complete, we feel complete.”