In 1947, Gordon and Alyce White heeded their doctors' advice to give up on their new daughter, who was born with a spinal deformity, a seizure disorder and other serious medical problems.

Kathy White wasn't expected to live past the age of 2, yet she somehow survived. Decades passed. White moved from hospitals to community homes for the disabled and then to her own apartment.Her family, which had lost touch with her over the years, eventually began trying to find her. But they had no idea even whether she was still alive.

Two months ago, White's sister Kaleen located her long-lost sibling through a chance conversation. The sisters, it turns out, lived only blocks from each other in this town 35 miles northwest of San Francisco.

"I was so happy for me," Kathy White, now 51, told The Sacramento Bee in a story published Sunday. "It felt like a dream. Fifty years is a long time. So many things happened to me in all those years. I wonder what pulled me through. Maybe I wanted to live to see my family."

White has since reunited with a family she never knew she had - three sisters, two brothers, her parents, a stepmother, nieces and nephews.

White lived out her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood at Sonoma State Hospital. Fifty years ago, children with genetic and birth defects routinely were placed in institutions, isolated from their communities and families.

In 1972, White, then age 25, left the hospital as part of a massive national effort to move the disabled out of institutions and into community programs. Through a state developmental agency, she learned how to live on her own.

White, who works part time for a cleaning service, lives in an apartment she has decorated with posters of animals. She fixes her own meals, balances her checkbook, entertains friends and has two pet parakeets she calls Inky and Kelly.

Over the years, her sister Kaleen and other family members desperately tried to find her.

"Every time I saw a group of disabled people, I asked them if they knew a Kathleen White," she said. "I wanted her to know that she had family, that there were people out there who cared about her."

Kaleen, who earlier this year moved to Rohnert Park to be closer to her daughter and relatives, got a stroke of luck while talking to a friend about the sister she never knew.

"Kathy White?" said the man, a driver for a transportation company that serves the disabled. "I know her! She lives a couple of blocks from here."

Later that evening, Kaleen White took one look at the woman and knew it was her sister. Stunned, they stared at each other and then began to hug and cry.

"She has been living under our noses all along, and we never knew it," said her father, Gordon White of Mount Shasta, who has since divorced and remarried.