Babies being switched at birth in a hospital is a scenario parents would expect only in a movie.
Five months ago it happened to two local couples at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital.
The babies went home with the wrong parents and it was only yesterday the babies were finally returned to their biological mothers after the Ministry of Health intervened two weeks ago.
The bizarre story unfolded months ago when a young expectant mother from Tobago was flown in by helicopter to have a Caesarean section at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital.
On that same day, another young woman from central Trinidad also had a Caesarian section to deliver her newborn.
The Tobago mother and her husband are of Afro-Trinidadian ethnicity while the Central mother and her husband are of Indian ethnicity.
Both mothers, after their surgeries, were placed on the same ward, in beds next to each other.
They both had baby girls who were tagged and placed in cots next to the patients believed to be their biological mothers.
The babies had been switched in error earlier by nurses and no one detected the mix-up.
The two mothers were discharged from the hospital, each taking home a stranger’s baby.
They would soon name, love and call their own these babies for the next five months with one family living in Tobago and the other in central Trinidad.
As the baby girls grew, both sets of parents became increasingly confused that their babies did not look like them and seemed to not be of the same race.
The differences were initially shrugged off as the father of African ethnicity was said to have a great grandparent of Indian descent and the father of Indian ethnicity was said to have some African ancestry.
But concerns grew as the babies did.
The Central couple were advised by friends and relatives to get genetic testing done.
This showed they were not the biological parents of the baby girl.
The Sunday Express understands that the couple went to the Health Ministry and met with Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan who immediately dealt with the situation.
The minister instructed that checks be made on all babies who were born on that particular day.
Sources said the mix-up occurred because the Tobagonian mother underwent the Caesarian section first when she was originally supposed to have her surgery after the Central mother.
Contacted yesterday, Khan confirmed that the switch happened and that the ministry ensured that the babies were now in the arms of their rightful parents.
Khan met with both couples and saw both babies.
The Central couple flew to Tobago yesterday and the babies were exchanged in the afternoon.
“The ministry sent a team across (yesterday) to work with the couple and place the babies in the hands of their true mothers,” said Khan.
Khan said the ministry was serious about the matter and started an investigation into the process to determine how the problem occurred.
“I am extremely sorry for what happened, as Minister of Health I have to take the blame for anything that happens under my purview. My permanent secretary and staff at the Ministry worked extremely hard to solve this problem the minute we were alerted of it,” said Khan.
He said it was fortunate that the ministry did not have to look beyond one couple to remedy the mix-up.
Khan also extended thanks to Dr Nicole Ramlochan of the Genix laboratory who handled the genetic testing for the ministry in a confidential and professional manner.
“I am very happy we were able to sort this out before any major imprinting had occurred and the babies are now with their rightful families. In fact, the grandfather of the Trinidad couple has indicated that he wants the two girls to grow up as sisters,” said Khan.
However, the Tobagonian grandparent of one of the babies is upset and believes that compensation is due.
Speaking to the Sunday Express yesterday by phone, the grandmother (who did not want to be identified) said her son and daughter-in-law were not taking the situation well and the entire family was still shaken following the ordeal.
She said the family was speaking to a lawyer to explore legal options.
“I am very depressed, in all my years of living I’ve never felt like this,” she said.
“I cannot even catch myself, yes, we had an Indian baby with us but we have family that are Indian, my grandfather is Indian so we thought somewhere there was something in the bloodline,” she said.
The woman said she was worried for her daughter-in-law who suffers with a heart condition.
“I don’t think I have ever heard about something like this in the history of the country. When they came and said we have the wrong baby, I did not know what to do. This is my first grandchild, that’s her first baby, at one point in time she thought she could not conceive so we were so excited,” she said.
“(The baby) is so adorable, we have been looking after her and loving her as our own,” she added.
Both mothers, the Sunday Express was told, were breastfeeding the babies thought to be their own.
The grandmother said the Central couple came to Tobago and for the first time and both sets of parents saw their true babies.
“They are a really nice family, nice people, the mother calls every day,” she said.
The grandmother said she and her family were very happy to have their biological baby returned to them but was upset that Mt Hope could make such a grave error.
She said the family members have been receiving counselling which was put in place by Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Secretary for Health Claudia Groom-Duke.
Groom-Duke, speaking to the Sunday Express by phone said that nothing was being taken for granted and a clinical psychiatrist, paediatrician and the medical chief of staff were involved and supporting the baby and family.
She said the Health Ministry must be praised for its efforts and manner of handing the issue.
“We all know it is a very emotional time for both families but I must commend the health system for the way the matter was addressed and the way in which they bought comfort to the lives of the families,” she said.
Groom-Duke said she has been working in the health system for a long time as a medical social worker and this was her first experience like this.
“Yes, I have seen the babies and to be quite frank the way in which these two families co-operated, I think it is something the whole country can learn from this experience. The way these two families have pledged to continue caring for these two babies, I think it is fantastic and tells a story of this jewel of a rainbow country we live in and how our people are one,” she said.