Archive for Tuesday, November 21, 1989

PAINFUL SWITCH

November 21, 1989

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This is a parents' nightmare.

Ten years after the fact, two families have learned that the daughters they raised are not their own. One couple still has a chance to get to know their biological daughter. The other father, whose wife already had died, will never have that chance.

The tragic realization is the result of a baby switch that took place 10 years ago in a Wauchula, Fla., hospital. The hospital, which now faces a lawsuit in the case, has offered no explanations. All that is known is that two baby girls, born several days apart, were taken home by the wrong parents. One was sick, one was healthy. One, Arlena, had a defective heart that led to her death last year. The other, Kimberly, is still alive in Florida and facing problems of another sort.

Tests have shown that Robert Mays, the father who raised her, and Barbara Mays, the mother who died in 1981 were not Kimberly's biological parents. Those parents are Ernest and Regina Twigg. The Twiggs, who discovered the switch after Arlena underwent genetic testing in connection with her illness, have agreed not to try to seek custody of Kimberly. Mays has sought to reassure her that he will always be her dad. Both Mays and the Twiggs seem to be doing their best to minimize the trauma to Kimberly. But it can't be an easy adjustment for a 10-year-old to make.

The Twiggs must deal not only with the death of the daughter they thought was theirs but with an awkward new relationship with the daughter who should have been theirs. Mays has a daughter, but he also has lost a daughter he never met. After learning the results of the blood tests that proved Arlena was his biological child, his only question was where she was buried.

Meanwhile, the hospital owes the parents and the rest of their patrons some sort of explanation. How could this happen? Was it intentional? Is there any chance it happened more than once?

The case in Florida must make any parent who has ever failed to see a family resemblance in the tiny infant they take home from the hospital shudder. Could such a thing happen again? Could it happen to them?

Sometimes, lawsuits about past, uncorrectable mistakes serve no purpose. But the one in Florida should. It should make that hospital and every other hospital in the country renew its efforts to make sure no other families are turned upside down by revelations such as the one the Twigg and the Mays families now face.

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