Entertainment Festivals

Sunday 15 September 2019

Look of the Irish: Arizona Rose only learned of roots in DNA test

Revelation: Arizona Rose Kayla Gray’s father was adopted and her mother’s known heritage stopped at her grandmother, so she was unaware of her historic roots
Revelation: Arizona Rose Kayla Gray’s father was adopted and her mother’s known heritage stopped at her grandmother, so she was unaware of her historic roots
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

With her shock of curly auburn hair and striking emerald green eyes, Kayla Gray certainly has the look of the Irish, but she didn't know about her Irish roots until she took a DNA test.

Representing her native Arizona in this year's Rose of Tralee festival, Kayla is now fully embracing her Irish roots, but her heritage was a mystery to her until recently.

"My dad was adopted and my mother's heritage ends at my grandmother so I really didn't know," she says.

"I met a past Rose who said, 'Oh my goodness, you look like you're Irish, you should totally do the Rose of Tralee!' and I said, 'I don't know if I'm Irish!'"

Kayla took a 23andMe DNA test which analyses the DNA in saliva to determine ancestry. "It said I was 50-something percent Irish and 20-something percent Northern European with Ireland and Scotland in the little circle so I said, 'Let's do it!'"

Kayla is among 32 roses who will appear on stage with host Dáithí Ó Sé during the Rose of Tralee televised events on Monday and Tuesday night. She has an incredible story of survival, having had two very near brushes with death.

When Kayla was 13, she underwent emergency brain surgery for a disease called Chiari Malformation and Hydrocephalus.

She had an MRI scan which led to a diagnosis and emergency experimental surgery.

"They told me I had two weeks to live if they hadn't rushed me into surgery because the pressure [of fluid] was building up so much," she says.

Seven years later, Kayla had another brush with death when the seatbelt and airbags in her car failed during a crash on a snowy road in Ohio. "My head hit the windshield causing a minor brain bleed," she said. "I wasn't able to walk for three months."

When she graduated from university, Kayla joined a research laboratory and in a twist of fate worked on a project which identified one of the cells that causes Chiari Malformation.

Irish Independent

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