Miss Pennsylvania Tiffany Seitz is competing Thursday night in the Miss America pageant

By Diane Herbst
December 19, 2019 10:56 AM
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Courtesy of Miss America Organization

When Tiffany Seitz was born addicted to cocaine, doctors gave her two weeks to live.

“Obviously a child in that type of condition would be in the NICU getting treatment,” Seitz, now 23, tells PEOPLE. “But sadly that wasn’t the case for me. I was waiting in the streets, alone, while my mother was out prostituting trying to make money.

“It’s a rotten shame,” she adds, “but that was the reality for me.”

It was a reality profoundly changed with the early help of a foster care agency and a loving family from Freeport, Pennsylvania, who took Tiffany in when she was a few months old before adopting her when she was 2½.

The upbeat Seitz gladly shares her story, with hopes of bringing attention to how foster care and adoption working together can save lives as she heads into the Miss America pageant Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“I’m so grateful that my parents have given me so much, opportunities that I wouldn’t have had had it not been for the gift of adoption,” she says. “I hope my story will inspire other people to consider doing the same thing.”

Tiffany Seitz
Courtesy of Miss America Organization

Just after she was born in Pittsburgh in August of 1995, health providers said if Seitz lived beyond two weeks, she wouldn’t make her first birthday. “She was very sick,” her father, Len Seitz, has told TribLive.

After Tiffany ended up with a foster care agency, it turned to the Seitz family for help, as they had already fostered three boys through high school.

“They said, ‘Would you be interested in taking this little girl in for the weekend? You know, she’s cocaine positive,” Tiffany tells PEOPLE. “She’s not expected to live long, but we need to put her somewhere because the home situation is bad.”

Weekends quickly turned into full-time foster care. Then, on the first day of spring 1998, the Seitzes adopted her during a court hearing involving Tiffany’s biological family, who had sought to adopt Tiffany.

“The judge presiding over my case that day said no to that,” she says, “and he decided to make my foster parents my adoptive parents. I love to share it.”

Meanwhile, her mother, Lori, left her job as a nurse to devote her time to Tiffany’s care, and home-schooled her until the start of sixth grade. The projected physical and mental disabilities never developed.

“That was about God’s hand in my life and what his plan was and what his destiny was for me,” she says. “And lucky for me that has brought me here today.”

Tiffany Seitz
Courtesy of Miss America Organization

In 2017 Tiffany, an accomplished dancer, graduated Grove City College with a degree in entrepreneurship. She now teaches dance between her duties as Miss Pennsylvania, and lives at home in Freeport with Lori, Len and an older foster brother with autism.

Seitz points out that her parents and two of her foster brothers (one of whom died from cancer in his twenties) are white, while Seitz and another foster brother are black. “It doesn’t really matter what color your skin is,” Seitz says, “because loves knows no color, knows no boundary.”

Seitz hasn’t seen her biological mom since shortly after her birth, and she only saw her biological father in a mug shot. When Seitz was in the eighth grade, her biological mother was shot to death while riding her bicycle in Pittsburgh, she tells PEOPLE.

“It’s kind of a really surreal experience to think that that’s where you come from,” she says. “Regardless of what the results [of Miss America are], the fact that I’ve made it this far with how I began is really an accomplishment in and of itself. I’m really, really happy to be here.”

Watch Seitz compete in the Miss America pageant on NBC on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.