HEPPNER, Ore. – On a spring day in 1953, two baby girls were born at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in eastern Oregon. They grew up happily, got married, had kids of their own and became grandparents. Then last summer their lives were turned upside down.
Kay Rene Reed Qualls found out that she and DeeAnn Angell Shafer were switched at birth.
They recently met for the first time and underwent DNA tests after a woman who knew both their mothers called Qualls' brother with her suspicion.
Qualls' brother, Bobby Reed, said the 86-year-old woman knew his mother and had also lived next door to the Angell family.
"She said she had something she had to get off her chest," he told the East Oregonian newspaper in a story published Monday.
The woman, whom he declined to identify by name, told him that his mother, Marjorie Angell, had insisted back in 1953 she had been given the wrong baby after the nurses returned from bathing the two newborns, but her concerns were brushed off.
The woman showed Bobby Reed a photo.
"It looked like Kay Rene in about 7th or 8th grade," he said.
But it wasn't. It was DeeAnn Shafer's sister.
"Kay Rene is not a Reed," the woman insisted. "DeeAnn is a Reed."
Bobby Reed was stunned, learning later that rumors of a mix-up had been around for years. In early February, Shafer learned the truth in a telephone call from her sister, Juanita.
"Do you remember those rumors of being switched at birth?" she asked, and went on to provide the update.
"Does this mean I'm not invited to the family reunion?" Shafer joked.
Qualls, Bobby Reed and one of their sisters met Shafer at a Kennewick, Wash., clinic last month for DNA testing. A week later, Qualls got the results, learning her likely probability of being related to her brother and sister was zero.
"I cried," she said. "I wanted to be a Reed — my life wasn't my life."
Shafer's DNA report said she had 99.9 percent of being related to Bobby and Dorothy Reed. Now living in Richland, Wash., Shafer said the report only confirmed what she knew after meeting Qualls.
"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 May 3 birthday together. Recently, Qualls introduced Shafer to her work colleagues, calling her "my swister."
"I'm trying to move forward at look at the positive," Shafer said. "You can't look back. It just drives you crazy."