SWITCHED AT BIRTH: The mistake that changed maternity wards

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – This story begins with the birth of two baby girls.

On June 29, 1995, single mother Paula Johnson gave birth to baby girl she named Callie at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.

The next day, in the same maternity ward, 18-year-old Kevin Chittum and his 16-year-old girlfriend Whitney celebrated the birth of their daughter Rebecca.

The families would remain blissfully unaware of each other for years. When Callie was three years old, Paula’s boyfriend asked for a paternity test. The result of that test led to a scandalous discovery.

It found he was not Callie’s father and the child was not Paula’s either.

Callie, it turned out, was actually Kevin and Whitney’s biological daughter.

The delicate situation turned devastating just hours before doctors planned to break the life-changing news to Kevin and Whitney. The couple, along with four relatives and friends, died when their car crashed on rain-slicked Interstate 81 in Botetourt County.

Kevin and Whitney died never knowing the child they took home and raised for three years, Rebecca, was not their biological baby. Callie was.

“The big question everyone always asks me is ‘Would you prefer your parents still be alive or passed?” Callie Johnson, now 18, recalled to Rob Cardwell. “I don’t know what I’m missing so in a sense, I do feel more sorry for Rebecca, because she doesn’t know her biological mom.”

“I’ve always taught her from day one they are her parents, you know.  She was born in Whitney’s belly and she was born in my heart,”  Paula Johnson added.

After Kevin and Whitney died, Paula attempted to claim her biological child, suing for custody of Rebecca in 1999. Kevin and Whitney’s parents fought back.

After three years of  family feuding, a judge ruled the girls would stay with the families who’d raised them. The families tried to make a visitation schedule work, but old fights continued to flare up. The girls grew tired of long trips to see family members they did not really know.

Paula sued the University of Virginia Medical Center for $31 million.  She settled for $1.25 million.

While the University of Virginia Medical Center denied our request to comment, people who work in other maternity wards said the mix-up served as a wake-up call.

“It was very upsetting.  It put everyone on guard ever since,” Director of Women’s and Children’s Service at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital Judy Matthews said.

Matthews said maternity wards across the country were forced to review their procedures and modernize their safeguards.

“Technology plays a role, but you also want to be very sure that all of your other procedures are in place.  You can’t rely on one system to protect our babies,”  Matthews said.

Paula Johnson said she was angry when she found out about the baby switch. That anger persists to this day.

“I’m angry because I don’t have a relationship with my biological child. I’m angry at the hospital because the only thing I ever asked was them to apologize,” she said. “I’m angry that Kevin and Whitney aren’t here to see what a beautiful child she is and how much she’s grown.”

If Callie is angry, it is not obvious. She said Paula Johnson is the only mother she knows.

“She’s my best friend.  She always has been.  And I can honestly say that,”  Callie said.

Callie said she would like to go to culinary school and then open her own bakery. She’d also like to write a tell-all book about her story.

Editor’s Note: Rebecca, who did not respond to requests for this story, did leave comments on the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page.

10 comments

  • Tori

    OMG! This is terrible I had my daughter there..I hate UVA I had problems with them during my stay there.. SMH! DONT MAKE NO SENSE IN IT!!

  • Mandy Fitzgerald

    Whitney Rogers was my BFF, this has brought back some feelings I havent felt in along time! Im glad the girls are doing well! But I miss Whitney everyday of my life, u cant replace her, never will!

  • Sonsi Mehenna

    They should have returned her biological daughter to her. Without a doubt. The girls were only 3 years old and would have adapted. Wow. How did that get so mixed up? And why didn’t the grandparents want their biological granddaughter. Weird behavior.

  • JB

    What they should have done, especially assuming both families received money from the hospital, was moved closer to each other. I’m not sure what the fights were about… Seems ridiculous that they wouldn’t have come together. They could have easily lived and raised those girls together in the same town. 1.25 MILL affords someone the opportunity to start over somewhere new. They could have been one big happy family. The girls could have been like sisters. It really is a shame that both families weren’t big enough to put their differences aside for the sake of the girls.

  • Jen

    This woman shouldn’t have had any kids EVER! Rebecca is lucky to have not been raised by her. The judge make the right call. Here is an excerpt from another article: “Sworn testimony in court documents details the worst of their accusations: Johnson walked out on her two oldest children when they were just babies a decade ago, leaving them with her then-husband, who was not the father of the older boy but continued to care for him for nearly three years. Johnson claims her husband abducted the boys, and that she did not file criminal charges because he threatened to kill the children and himself. “I did not kidnap them. She walked out,” the ex-husband, Frank Moore, says, declining to comment further. After taking back the older boy, she disregarded medical advice to have a small hole in his eardrum repaired, despite a doctor’s certified letter warning her of the consequences. The child eventually had to have his eardrum replaced. Johnson says she had sought medical attention for the child with another doctor. The same boy-diagnosed at various times as learning disabled, hyperactive and emotionally disturbed-was placed in weekend foster care for several years after Greene County child services workers determined that Johnson physically abused him. Testimony indicated that the boy had been slapped, bitten, and whipped with a belt so hard it left welts.” the whole article is here- http://www.angelfire.com/va2/the2girls/ Paula Johnson is a terrible person but she tries to charm the media into seeing her as a victim. She is actually a child abuser and a deadbeat mother. I feel sorry for the kids.

  • anothersadstorymoneycantfix

    The mother shown appears to be very demanding. It does not say but I wonder if she was wanting both girls. I’m sure she was rather obnoxious at those all family meetings. Making it very clear to everyone what she wanted instead of just enjoying the moment of being with her biological daughter. We do not know if the other family sued or not. Personally, I would not have sued. People complain about their health care costs increasing so much and then feel these multimillion law suits are justified. How do you think the hospital will pay for those? Increase costs. Did the 1.25 million make the situation better? What did the money solve? To sue to make them change their policies and procedures is one thing but to profit from it is quite another. Did the million make her feel better for not having her biological child? The new american dream, not to work hard to have a better life, who can I sue so I don’t have to work. That is the new american dream.

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