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Baby mix-up at Australian hospital

The switch was only discovered after more than eight hours….but how often is this kind of mistake made?

TWO BABIES AT a hospital in the Australian state of Victoria were breastfed by women who were not their mothers, after a mix-up in the nursery where they were being cared for.

The newborns were given to the wrong mothers after hospital staff failed to follow procedure with regard to checking the babies’ name bracelets against the cots they were placed in, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The babies were with the wrong mothers for eight-and-a-half hours on Friday at the St. John of God hospital in Geelong before a family member noticed that something wasn’t right. ABC reports that infection control consultants were called in, but that medical concerns would be minimal. The Geelong Advertiser reports that the babies were being cared for in the Special Care Unit of the hospital when the mix-up occurred. St John of God hospital chief executive Stephen Roberts told 3AW radio that there had been a breakdown in protocol:

Sometime during Friday the babies had been taken from their cots in the Special Care Nursery. There’s been a breakdown in process and it appears that a name bracelet wasn’t checked and the babies were place in incorrect cots. Unfortunately the babies were returned to the wrong mothers which is just a terrible tragedy and it came as a great shock to us and to the families involved.

The families in question are now receiving counselling and the hospital says it is deeply apologetic.

How far have some baby mix-ups gone?

  • In 2007 two Czech couples swapped their ten-month-old baby daughters after it emerged that they had been mixed up after being born within 18 minutes of each other at Trebic Hospital in December 2006. DNA tests revealed that the babies were indeed with the wrong families. The mothers had expressed concern over apparent rapid changes in their babies’ weights in the hospital, but the concerns were dismissed by hospital staff. Legal action was taken by both families against the hospital
  • Two boys were accidentally switched in Portlaoise Hospital in Co. Laois in 1986 and spent almost a week with the wrong families before it was noticed that the babies’ weights didn’t make sense. Michael McHugh and Blain Broomfield were returned to their rightful parents after extensive medical tests. Michael McHugh said he only learned of the swap when he was 11 years old.
  • Spanish twins who were born in Gran Canaria in 1973 but brought up by different families met by chance in 2001 when they were 28. One of the women had been swapped with another baby girl, who was then brought up along with her ‘twin’. The original twins were identical though, and a chance encounter led to them meeting up. All three women sued the Gran Canarian authorities.
  • Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg were switched at birth in a hospital in Florida in 1978. Arlena died of a heart defect in 1988 and blood tests revealed that she was not the biological daughter of the Twiggs. Both families became embroiled in a custody battle over Kimberly, who won the right to divorce the Twiggs as her biological parents in 1993 when she was 14.
  • Two South African women whose sons were switched at birth in 1989 sued authorities in 1995. The boys stayed with the families who had raised them, but at the age of 15 Robin Dawkins left the woman who had raised him and went to live with Margaret Clinton-Parker – his biological mother – and both boys lived with her as brothers.
  • Two women who were switched at birth at an Oregon hospital only learned of the mistake 56 years later after a women who knew both families voiced her suspicion and DNA tests confirmed that the women had been living with the wrong families.

About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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