Two 53-year-old women spent their lives in abusive families after a 1969 birth chaos at Springdale Cottage Hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador.
On the morning of September 24, 1969, Ruth Lush gave birth to a baby girl whom she named Dora Arlene Lush after a relative. While he was recovering in the hospital, his daughter was brought to him. To her surprise, Mrs. Lush did not recognize her. Not the same kid she beat the night before, she thought. But the nurse immediately reassured him: children can change quickly. It was actually her child.
However, as she grew up, the differences between Dora Arlene and the other Lush children became more and more apparent. Dora was red-headed and freckled, while her sisters were blonde with milky skin.
For her part, the now grown-up other child, Caroline Weir-Green, has always wondered about her identity. Adopted by her aunt, she finds herself so different from her cousins that she likes to tease her that her father may not be her real father.
And so one day, with a head full of questions, she opened an email containing the results of her genealogy kit. Just like that she saw a list of surnames appear that had nothing to do with her current name. She also knew that one of her sisters was somewhere in Halifax, and she urgently contacted her. In fact Mrs Lush’s older daughter was contacted by her sister.
Ruth Lush was in shock. She learns that her biological daughter was raised in a fishing village an hour away, and that both of Dora Arlene’s biological parents are dead.
The story of the transfer soon spread throughout the municipality and others shared similar experiences at Springdale Cottage Hospital.
Joan Buckdell, for example, handed her a baby in a pink blanket after birth. But she gave birth to a boy. Initially suspicious, the nurse disappears to investigate, eventually returning with her son.
It’s the same story for Jenetta Burton, who just hours before gave birth to a daughter instead of a son.
At the time, the only way to identify babies born in rural hospitals in the region was to use small, identifiable bracelets.
“I think these things can happen anywhere, but I’m very surprised to hear it happened there,” said Valerie Compton, a nurse who worked at Springdale Cottage Hospital at the time.
“I can’t imagine the shock the parents must have gone through. My deepest thoughts and prayers go out to them. It’s just so horrible,” he added.
Other similar cases in Canada?
Although birth switching events are rare, they are not in Canada. In 2015 and 2016, two separate cases were discovered at a federal hospital in northern Manitoba in the 1970s.
In response, Health Canada offered free DNA testing to hospital births during this period and ordered an independent investigation, which found the changes were accidental and the result of not following proper procedures.
Newfoundland Provincial Health and Social Services Minister Tom Osborne offered condolences to the families of the victims, but did not apologize. He says he’s looking at what’s been done in Manitoba to see if something similar can be done in Newfoundland. However, he does not believe that an independent investigation is necessary.
That’s not the view of Progressive Conservative health critic Paul Tinn, who insists on families’ right to know whether this was an isolated incident and whether the changes were intentional or a flaw in the system. “At the very least, these families deserve an apology,” he said.
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