Friends Who Discovered They're Actually Sisters Reunite with Biological Dad: 'A Gift from God'

"Nothing can compare to the happiness I feel now," Adriano Luna tells PEOPLE of reconnecting with his biological daughters

Adriano Luna's life in the Dominican Republic was a struggle in 1988. Out of work and out of money, Luna and his wife Juliana couldn't even afford medicine to treat their year-old son, who was sick with anemia due to malnutrition, when another child — a daughter they called Cassandra — was born.

"We didn't have money, we were sleeping on the floor, struggling to buy food," Luna says.

Desperate, they placed the 6-week-old baby for adoption, hoping to give her a better life. Less than two years later, the couple — still without an income — had another daughter, whom they called Julia. Again, they turned to adoption.

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"I thought of them every night," Luna, now 54, tells PEOPLE of his daughters in this week's issue. "I never lost hope that God would let me meet them before I died."

More than 1,500 miles away in New Haven, Connecticut, Julia Tinetti was working as a hostess at the Russian Lady in 2013 when she spotted a familiar tattoo on the arm of the restaurant's new waitress, Cassandra Madison: the Dominican Republic flag, an exact match of a tattoo on Tinetti's back. The two learned they were both adopted from the DR and quickly bonded over that and other similarities.

"We both have the exact same personality," says Madison, now 33. "We're crazy together!"

One night, on a lark, they both pulled out their adoption papers to see if they could be related — "a one in a million shot,'" remembers Tinetti, now 31. But the birthplaces and birth parent names listed on the documents were not the same.

This January, after years of lingering suspicion, Madison finally talked Tinetti into taking a DNA test and they learned the adoption paperwork was wrong all along — the two friends were indeed sisters. That discovery, which reconnected the women with their father and the rest of their biological family in the DR, "answered my prayers," says Luna. "It's a gift from God."

ccassandra and julia adopted friends biological sisters
Cassandra Madison and Julia Tinetti. ROBYN TWOMEY

For Luna, the first happy surprise had come two years earlier when Madison first contacted him after taking a 23andMe DNA test. On their first video call in January 2019, neither of them said much.

"We mostly just cried," Madison says. "He told me he was sorry that he wasn't able to find me, and that him and my mom just love me so much."

Unfortunately, neither Madison nor Tinetti was ever able to meet their biological mother. She had died in 2015 of a heart attack at age 46: "People said she lived with a broken heart," Madison says.

Madison learned she had seven other siblings in the DR, and in March 2019, she visited her newfound family for the first time. Luna and her siblings met Cassandra at the airport wearing t-shirts with her face printed on them.

"When I saw her, I was incredibly grateful to God that he returned her to me," Luna tells PEOPLE.

Madison says her dad was bursting with pride: "My dad brought me everywhere, saying, 'This is my daughter. She's an American!' "

For more on the sisters' life-changing discovery, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Madison, now living in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and working as a surgical assistant for an oral surgeon, made three more visits to the DR. She also happened to show Luna a photo of her friend Tinetti, who works as a residential counselor at a group home in New Haven. Luna was stunned.

biological sisters cassandra and julia facetime their father
Adriano Luna's call with Cassandra Madison and Julia Tinetti. Courtesy Cassandra Madison

"Julia looks exactly like her mother," Luna says. "I knew in my heart I was looking at my daughter."

By then, Madison and Tinetti thought he might be right after Julia's close friend Molly Sapadin, who was adopted from the DR on the same day as Julia, began to raise questions. Sapadin had found out that the biological mother listed on her adoption papers was the same biological mother listed on Madison's papers, but a DNA test showed that she couldn't be Madison's sister. Julia and Molly's paperwork, they all realized, must have been switched when they were adopted.

Madison put the question to her dad and Luna admitted that they had given up a second daughter for adoption the same year that Tinetti was born. On Jan. 2, Madison drove eight hours to Tinetti's home with a DNA test, and less than a month later the results confirmed they were sisters.

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The next day Tinetti called her biological father for the first time: "He just kept saying, 'Oh my God, Oh my God — you look so much like your mother.' He was crying," Julia says. "He was super happy."

This month, the sisters' family will be expanding again. Madison is expecting a baby girl, Catalina Raquel, due Oct. 11.

"I can't wait for her to be part of the story," says Madison.

She will be Luna's first granddaughter — he has three grandsons who live in the DR. Tinetti and Casandra plan to visit him in March with the baby.

"Everybody is extremely excited," says Luna, who can't wait to give them a hug and a kiss. "My biggest joy is that I finally got reunited with my daughters. Nothing can compare to the happiness I feel now."

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