HEPPNER, Ore. – On a spring day in 1953, two babies were born at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in the Eastern Oregon town of Heppner — DeeAnn Angell of Fossil and Kay Rene Reed of Condon. The girls would grow up, get married, have kids of their own and become grandparents. Then, last summer, Kay Rene's brother, Bobby Reed, got a call from an 86-year-old woman who had known his mother and had also lived next door to the Angell family in Fossil.
"She said she had something she had to get off her chest," Bobby Reed said in an interview with the East Oregonian newspaper of Pendleton, which reported the story Sunday.
Bobby met the woman at the nursing home where she lives. The woman said Marjorie Angell insisted back in 1953 that she had been given the wrong baby after the nurses returned from bathing them. Her concerns, however, were brushed off.
Then the old lady showed Bobby an old photo.
"It looked like Kay Rene in about 7th or 8th grade," Bobby said.
But it was DeeAnn Angell's sister.
"Kay Rene is not a Reed," the woman insisted. "DeeAnn is a Reed."
Bobby, obviously stunned, didn't know what to do with the information. He didn't want to hurt anyone; he didn't want anything to change.
He finally decided to tell his two oldest sisters, and one of them told Kay Rene.
With both sets of parents dead, the Reed and Angell siblings compared notes and family stories, learning that rumors of a mix-up had been around for years. In early February, DeeAnn got a call from her sister, Juanita. "Do you remember those rumors of being switched at birth?" Juanita asked, and went on to provide the update.
"Does this mean I'm not invited to the family reunion?" DeeAnn joked.
Kay Rene, meanwhile, needed to learn the truth. Kay Rene, Bobby and their sister Dorothy met DeeAnn at a Kennewick, Wash., clinic last month. The doctor said Kay Rene's and DeeAnn's DNA would be compared with that of Bobby and Dorothy to determine the probability of a relation.
A week later, Kay Rene got the results at work. She went to her car to open the envelope in privacy. Her likely probability of being related to her brother and sister? Zero.
"I cried," she said. "I wanted to be a Reed — my life wasn't my life."
DeeAnn's report said she had 99.9 percent of being related to Bobby and Dorothy.
DeeAnn, who now lives in Richland, Wash., told the newspaper that the report only confirmed what she knew after meeting Kay Rene.
"After seeing Kay Rene, I went home and told my husband, I don't know why she's doing the DNA testing," she said. "I was shocked — she looked just like my sister's twin."
Pioneer Memorial Hospital offered to pay for counseling, but both women declined.
The two have become friends and celebrated their latest birthday together earlier this month. Recently, Kay Rene Qualls introduced DeeAnn Shafer to her work colleagues, calling her "my swister."
"I'm trying to move forward at look at the positive," DeeAnn said. "I love my kids. I love my husband. I love my life."
She paused. "You can't look back. It just drives you crazy."
I think it does matter and it sucks that she cant even speak with her parents about it and deal with it that way. It will always be a what if on how they would respond to it.
Thinking back on it, her whole life is based on a fluke incident, a life altering moment derived from human incompetence.
Being misled about such a crucial bit of information your whole life and then having the walls of your so-called reality shattered by a simple statement of truth can be pretty devastating. You have to challenge your perception of self and at 50 something, thats not so easy to do. It also depends on your character and mental makeup, as the story has shown us, one of them seems to have taken the news much better than the other.
I heard a similar story on "This American Life" on NPR about a year ago. In that case the mother who knew the kids were switched also chose to remain silent. She told her husband and he told her to be quiet about it for some reason. So she kept quiet but treated her non-kid like a total step child. When she finally broke the story by the time both girls were married and had kids she kept trying to push her non-kid away even more. Really messed up.
Fortunately it ended happily there too after the initial awkwardness phased out.