Tests Show Virginia Babies Were Switched

Filed at 7:00 a.m. EDT July 31, 1998

By The Associated Press
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Two newborn girls went home with the wrong mothers three years ago in a switch that authorities are investigating as a deliberate criminal act.

Safeguards at the University of Virginia Medical Center, where the girls were born, would have prevented accidental misidentification, hospital officials said Thursday.

The switch was revealed after one of the girls underwent three genetic tests earlier this month. DNA results proved that blue-eyed, blond-haired girl, whom 30-year-old Paula Johnson has loved and raised since bringing her home from the hospital, is not her biological child.

Photos from the Virginia Switched Babies Case

Ms. Johnson has hired an attorney, though no lawsuit has been filed.

"She's a beautiful child. She's a wonderful child," Ms. Johnson said in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I'm not worried about me, but I need to protect my children."

The blood and DNA test results prompted the University of Virginia Medical Center to contact another family who had a daughter about the same time. Tests indicated they also are raising someone else's child.

Hospital spokeswoman Marguerite Beck, citing patient confidentiality, declined to identify the other family. Ms. Johnson has expressed the hope of eventually tracking down and meeting her biological daughter.

"I don't want to scare this other family in any way," she said. Ms. Johnson declined to say what prompted her to seek the genetic tests.

"We are really hoping the other parents out there will come to us and help us work through this together,'' Cynthia Johnson, Paula Johnson's attorney, said in today's Washington Post. The women are not related.

Two other light-haired, blue-eyed girls were born at the hospital at about the same time on June 30, 1995. "Nothing has been found to indicate that more than two infants were involved," the university said in a prepared statement.

The hospital follows a common procedure in which babies and their mothers are assigned identical numbered identity bracelets immediately after birth.

"They have all the same number code,'' said Dr. Thomas A. Massaro, chief of staff at the university's Health Sciences Center. "The baby gets two of them, one on the wrist and one on the ankle, and the mother gets the larger one on the wrist."

The bands cannot be removed accidentally, Massaro said. "They have to actually be cut off or pulled very hard."

Campus police are investigating the matter as a criminal act.

The case recalls that of Kimberly Mays, who was switched at birth with Arlena Twigg at a Florida hospital where they were born in 1978. The swap became public in 1988 when Arlena died of heart disease and tests showed she was not the biological child of Regina and Ernest Twigg.

The case drew national attention as Kimberly was the subject of various custody battles, with a judge ruling the Twiggs had no legal rights to act as her parents or even visit her.

In a tragic and almost unbelievable development, one set of parents of the switched Virginia babies died in a car crash on July 4. Since then, that baby has been raised by distant relatives of the couple who died.

Those distant relatives have now offered to switch babies. However, they are not entitled to that. Under Virginia law, Ms. Johnson is entitled to both babies.

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