Switched at birth.
It sounds like a shocking Lifetime movie plot, but believe it or not, hospital baby swaps happen more than you think. It has been estimated that about 28,000 babies get mistakenly switched, temporarily or permanently, every year.
Most hospitals use identification bracelets for mother and baby, and sometimes even the father or another designated adult caregiver. When the baby is transferred, that is, moved from the nursery to the mother, or back again, the hospital staff as well as the mother, is supposed to verify that the identification numbers on the bracelets match.
Despite these and other security measures, sometimes the baby swaps still occur. Whether the baby is breastfed by the wrong mom or sent home with the wrong parents, it's unsettling to know that these mistakes are still made.
In 2009, a wealthy Japanese family with four siblings questioned why one of their brothers didn't seem to resemble the rest of the family. A DNA test, taken nearly 60 years after his birth, confirmed he was not biologically related to them. After searching through hospital records for two years, they found the missing sibling.
The babies had been switched after a nurse had bathed them; they were returned to the wrong mothers.
The baby that mistakenly went home with the wealthy family went to private school and tutoring, and then went on to college and eventually became the owner of a successful real estate company. The sibling that had been born to the wealthy family ended up going home with a poor couple and living in near-poverty.
The man he had known as his father died when he was two. His mother raised him and two siblings in an apartment with no electrical appliances. The family lived paycheck to paycheck and the man eventually became a truck driver.
Distraught and unable to believe that he'd been raised by the wrong family, that someone else had lived the life he was supposed to have lived, the 60-year-old man, who requested anonymity, decided to file a lawsuit against the hospital where he was born. He was awarded 38 million yen ($371,233) which was quite a bit less than the 250 million yen he'd initially been seeking.
Although deprived of knowing his real parents, the man now visits with his biological brothers once a month.
"Girl M" and "Boy Z" were born at Tambo Memorial Hospital on the same day in August 2010. It is unclear how babies of different sexes were swapped, but what's really startling is how the switch was discovered.
In 2013, the parents of "Boy Z" separated and the mother sued his father over missing child care payments. He denied he was the father of the child and requested a DNA test. The DNA test concluded that neither one of them was a biological parent to the child!
After a two-year legal battle, the South African court ruled the babies, who were then 5, would remain with the families that raised them. The court also ruled that the parents would have no legal rights to their biological children but would be allowed to contact them. Although some of the parents were initially uncomfortable with the ruling, they agreed that keeping the children in the homes they'd been raised in would be best for them.
On March 28, 2008, Kassie Hopkins and Mary Jo Bathon had both given birth to boys at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, Illinois. Within hours of being discharged from the hospital a few days later, Bathon received a telephone call from the hospital explaining she'd been sent home with the wrong baby. Instead of going home with her son, she'd left with Hopkins' son.
Somehow, the switch happened when both babies had been taken away for circumcisions. Their identification bracelets had been removed and then replaced on the wrong babies. Although the hospital apologized and rectified the mistake immediately, neither mother was satisfied with the apology. Both women sued the hospital and its parent company for more than $50,000 apiece.
Imagine taking your sick child to the hospital for treatment, only to learn that the child died during the procedure. This happened to Gagan Bihari Patra, only he refused to believe his baby girl was dead. He insisted she had been swapped and was the baby girl in bed number 17 at the nursery at the Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research in Odisha, India.
However, the parents of the baby girl in bed number 17 refused to believe there had been a switch; If that were the case, it would mean their baby girl had passed away during treatment.
Patra complained to hospital officials and insisted on a DNA test, which eventually confirmed the living baby was his daughter. The director of the hospital announced that strict action would be taken against any medical staff found responsible for the incident.
In the past few years, at least seven baby swaps have been identified in New South Wales hospitals. One mom, Stefanie Phillips, came forward to speak to news outlets about her ordeal. After her delivery, the baby was taken away from Phillips so she could rest and recover. When the infant was returned to her a few hours later for her first skin-on-skin contact, the nurse explained there had been quite a mix-up.
The baby had been given to another new mother for two hours. During that time the mother held her, nursed her, and took photos with her.
Phillips was understandably shocked and disappointed. Some other woman was the first to hold her baby, nurse her baby and bond with her. Hospital staff apologized to both women for the mistake, but clearly, that doesn't make up for the lack of security protocol.
Hospital officials in New South Wales insist that these errors are rare, but when they do occur, babies and breastmilk undergo screenings and the mothers are offered counseling.
In rural Wauchula, Florida in 1978, Kimberly Mays was born to Ernest and Regina Twigg. Somehow, during her hospital stay, Kimberly's identification bracelet was switched with another baby's, and Kimberly went home with Robert and Barbara Mays.
The Twiggs took home the baby they thought was theirs, named Arlena. Arlena had been born with a heart defect and passed away at the age of 9. Blood tests revealed that Arlena was not the biological child of Ernest and Regina Twigg. The Twiggs began searching for Kimberly and eventually found her living alone with Robert; Barbara had passed away and Kimberly was an only child.
The Twiggs convinced Mays to take a DNA test, and he agreed to do so as long as the Twiggs would not attempt to gain custody of Kimberly. The DNA tests proved that Mays was not actually Kimberly's father. Although the Twiggs attempted to visit Kimberly regularly, Robert eventually put an end to the visits. Kimberly famously "divorced" her biological parents by filing papers to sever all ties with the Twiggs in 1993.
Shortly after the divorce, she temporarily moved in with the Twiggs. In an attempt to stay out of the spotlight, she has moved several times. She has now been married twice and has six children by four different men.
There's a lot that can go wrong during childbirth, so when Jessica Escobedo gave birth to her third child at OakBend Medical Center outside of Houston in 2014, she probably breathed a big sigh of relief.
The following day, however, she was handed the wrong child (the baby even had on an identification bracelet with the wrong name!) and immediately demanded to know where her daughter was. She learned her baby had spent two hours with another new mom who had held her and nursed her, without realizing she had the wrong baby.
Escobedo and the baby's father, Aaron Powell, were both shocked and frustrated. They had assumed their child was safe in the nursery and instead found out she had been handed over to a stranger. The hospital apologized and the nurse that was in charge of handling Escobedo's baby was eventually fired. The baby and the woman were both tested for diseases and infections and the results came back negative.
Four decades ago, a new mother in Vietnam began to doubt whether the baby she was caring for was her own when she realized the identification number written on the baby's wristband did not match hers. The nurse that was caring for her insisted the number must have been blurred by water, and that, of course, that was her baby.
The woman took the baby girl home and raised her as her own, but her doubts continued to grow as the girl grew up without resembling any of her other family members. When the girl was 22, a DNA test confirmed the girl was not the woman's biological daughter. The woman kept the results of the DNA test a secret until recently when she appeared in Vietnamese newspapers to ask for help in searching for her long lost daughter.
When Yuliya and Yuri Belyaeva were getting divorced in 2011, Yuri refused to pay child support, explaining he didn’t believe his 13-year-old daughter Irina was his child because she didn't look anything like him. A judge ordered a DNA test to determine the truth, and the results shockingly ended up showing that Irina wasn’t the biological child of either one of them.
Yuliya recalled that in 1998, another woman was in labor at the hospital the same time she was. Authorities eventually learned that the babies' identification bracelets had been mixed up, probably because the babies had been born within minutes of each other, and because both mothers' maiden names started with the same letter.
Both families sued the hospital for the mistake. Both girls decided to stay with the families that raised them and have been in the process of becoming friends.
Tammy Van Dyke's newborn son was placed in the wrong bassinet in the nursery at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis in 2012. Her son was then accidentally given to the wrong mother, who breastfed him. Van Dyke found out about the mistake a few hours after it happened, just before she and the baby were to be discharged.
She got to speak to the other mother, who was just as distraught to learn of the mistake. She had given birth to twins, and also had to wait for her missing baby to be located.
As a precaution, Van Dyke's son underwent testing for HIV and hepatitis. Although the tests came back negative, he would have to return for testing every three months for a year.
In 2013, Holly Reyes gave birth to her son, Charlie, two months early at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto. He weighed just a little over 2 lb. If that weren't difficult enough, he was also diagnosed with a heart condition and had to undergo open heart surgery.
Because of an allergy, Charlie was on a restricted diet and was only supposed to receive his mother's breast milk and a supplement to give him extra calories. But that's not what happened.
Instead, Reyes claimed that her son was given formula, or another woman's breast milk, and had a reaction, which required him to be placed on oxygen. Charlie had to be tested for HIV and hepatitis.
The hospital refused to comment on the incident, citing patient privacy rules.
In 1983, when Jodie Pope was just 19-years-old, she gave birth to her first child. She and her husband, Walter, named him Cameron. That same day, in the same hospital, Tina Williams gave birth to a biracial baby boy named Melvin that she planned to put up for adoption.
Due to a mistake at the hospital, the Popes took home Williams' baby. Williams left the hospital with the Popes' son, and he was later placed with his adoptive parents, Eugene and Edith Moore.
Walter Pope questioned the paternity of Cameron, wondering about his dark complexion. Jodie insisted he had inherited her family's Cherokee features. Eventually, due to Walter's suspicions of an affair, the Popes divorced. Because Walter didn't want to support a child if it wasn't his, he demanded a blood test. The blood test concluded that not only was Cameron not related to him, he wasn't related to Jodie, either.
Wondering what had happened to the boy she had given birth to, Jodie finally won a court order to open the adoption papers of the boy Tina Williams had given away and was able to locate Eugene and Edith Moore, who were stunned to learn the boy that they had raised was not actually the baby they were meant to adopt. But they had no intention of turning him over to Jodie, even though she was his biological mother.
In 1991, the courts ruled that the Moores could retain full custody of Melvin. In a suit brought forth by both families, the Griffin-Spalding County Hospital paid $900,000 to Jodie Pope, the Moores, and, via trusts, the two boys.
In 2015, El Salvador native Mercedes Casanellas gave birth to a little boy in her home country. When the doctors brought her a baby a day later as she recovered, she was afraid it wasn't the same child, but she believed the hospital staff when they assured her that it was.
When she and her husband returned to Dallas where they lived, they still shared concerns that the baby didn't appear to look like his parents or the rest of the family. The couple decided to have DNA testing, and the tests showed the child wasn't theirs. They returned to El Salvador to find their baby.
DNA tests were given to all four of the male babies that were born in the hospital that day, and Casanellas was finally reunited with her biological child. Casanellas and her husband had grown to love the little boy that they had taken home with them, and had hoped to keep him as well, but he was returned to his biological family.
Casanellas had worried that the switch had been more than just human error or a mistake at the hospital, but she had been afraid to question the medical staff. She had tried to point out the differences in the baby that she'd first held after birth and the one that was given to her--darker skin, much more abundant and darker hair--but she listened to the medical professionals who assured her that he was the same child.
The Attorney General of El Salvador later ordered a criminal investigation into the baby’s disappearance, claiming a child trafficking ring had been operating inside the hospital.
When Paula Johnson and Whitney Rogers passed each other in the hall of the University of Virginia Medical Center maternity ward in 1995, they were both just trying to speed up labor. They had no idea how entangled their lives would become.
In 1998, when Paula Johnson demanded child support from Carlton Conley, Callie's father, the court required all three of them to undergo DNA testing. The DNA results concluded that Callie was not biologically Carlton's or Paula's. Although Paula loved the little girl she'd been raising as her own, it bothered to know that her birth daughter was out there somewhere, so she contacted the hospital.
The hospital was able to narrow down the list of possible candidates and eventually found Whitney Rogers' daughter, Rebecca, living with her grandparents. Whitney Rogers and Kevin Chittum, Rebecca's parents, had been killed in a car accident a few weeks earlier.
After a custody dispute, the families eventually agreed that the girls should remain with the families that raised them.
Although Rebecca never had much of a relationship with her biological mother, Paula Johnson, she would eventually end up getting to know her biological father, Carlton Conley, very well. In 2001, he ended up marrying a relative (who just so happened to be Callie Johnson's biological aunt--figure that one out!) that cared for Rebecca as a little girl; In 2013, Rebecca was living with them and their three sons.
Karin Tanabe explained in her Washington Post article that her baby was briefly given to the wrong mother after a trip to the nursery at Sibley Memorial Hospital. When her daughter was handed over the following morning, two hours later than expected, the nurse casually explained the baby had spent some time with the wrong mother. Tanabe later learned from another nurse the other mother had held the baby and fed the baby formula.
Fearing for their newborn's health and safety, Tanabe's husband managed to locate the other mother, who calmed her fears and expressed fear of her own--where was her child when she had been holding someone else's?
According to a nurse that Tanabe spoke with, an incident like this one hadn't happened at the hospital since 1983. However, another nurse said it happened only three years ago. The scary thing is, even in this day and age, with numerous security measures in place, it still happens.