Switched at Birth: Women Learn the Truth 56 Years Later

Oregon natives dealing with fallout from being switched at birth in 1953.

May 14, 2009 — -- When Oregon nurses handed Marjorie Angell her newborn daughter in the hospital in 1953, she insisted they had given her the wrong child. Her concerns were brushed off, but in an unlikely story that was 56 years in the making, her mother's intuition foreshadowed what was to come.

It was true. Her daughter had been switched at birth when she and the other baby were being bathed, but Marjorie Angell would never learn the truth because she died before it was revealed.

"It's sad," DeeAnn Angell Schafer told "Good Morning America." "Just to think I missed out on knowing my own parents."

Even though Kay Rene Reed Qualls said she enjoyed a wonderful life, she still feels guilty about the memories that should belong to DeeAnn and her family.

"I look at them and I feel like I cheated somebody," she said.

The story of two women who grew up in the wrong families just came to light last month to the surprise of everyone and no one.

A Secret Switch?

On May 3, 1953, DeeAnn Angell of Fossil, Ore., and Kay Rene Reed of Condon, Ore., were born at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in the eastern Oregon town of Heppner. They grew up, got married, and had children and grandchildren of their own.

The women's lives were uneventful until last summer, when Kay Rene's brother, Bobby Reed, received a call from an 86-year-old woman who claimed to hold an astonishing secret.

He met the woman in her nursing home. She said she had known the Reeds' mother and had lived next door to the Angell family in Fossil. Her shocking claim was that Kay Rene wasn't really a Reed at all; she was an Angell.

The elderly woman said Kay Rene and DeeAnn were switched at birth.

To bolster her story, she showed Bobby Reed an old photo of DeeAnn's sister. Reed saw an instant and undeniable resemblance to the woman raised as his sister.

Switched at Birth: Uncovering the Truth

If what the elderly woman said was correct, then DeeAnn really was Reed's sister and not Kay Rene's. The secret stunned Reed, who was unsure what to do with the potential bombshell. He always had known and loved Kay Rene as his sister.

Though Kay Rene was a brunette in a sea of blonds, no one ever thought to question her paternity.

Reed didn't want anything to change, nor did he want to hurt anyone. He decided to tell his two oldest sisters, and one of them broke the news to Kay Rene.

With both the Reed parents and the Angell parents dead, the children had to come together to uncover the truth about the alleged mix-up.

The families learned rumors of babies being switched at birth had been around for decades. In fact, Kay Rene first learned of such gossip in 1995 when her sister Carol told her during their dying father's last camping trip.

After his death, Kay Rene's mother approached her about the subject. She acknowledged that she heard another new mother in the same hospital, where she had given birth, question if her baby was her own. But after looking into Kay Rene's big brown eyes, she determined this was her baby and she wouldn't bring the issue up anymore.

Growing Up With Questions

Growing up, Kay Rene had questioned whether she truly was a Reed. She had her suspicions. She knew she didn't look like anyone else in her family.

Eventually, Kay Rene said, the rumors started in her family that maybe she wasn't really related to them.

"I think all the older sisters knew this," she said.

But neither woman ever had blood tests and DNA testing was not an option. The doubts just lingered.

Even Kay Rene's husband joked about whether the Reeds truly were her relatives after seeing her at family functions.

Kay Rene just knew she didn't want those thoughts to be true. She chalked them up to being ornery. She justified her placement in the Reed clan by saying her blue eyes came from her father.

DeeAnn, too, had suspicions growing up. She wondered why she loved horses so much.

She received a phone call from her sister in February to tell her about the news -- the rumors might be true.

'Swisters': Switched Sisters

When Kay Rene finally met the Angell family, she realized she looked more like them. The DNA test confirmed what Kay Rene had seen with her own eyes and what DeeAnn realized the second she met Kay Rene.

Kay Rene was not a Reed and had no biological link to her brother Bobby Reed. DeeAnn actually was Bobby Reed's sister and Kay Rene really was an Angell.

The news was shocking and disturbing for Kay Rene, who felt as if she had lived a lie. She questioned if her memories actually belonged to her since she lived what should have been DeeAnn's life.

DeeAnn finally got the answer to why she had an affinity for horses. Her biological father had been a horse trainer.

DeeAnn and Kay Rene have become close following the revelation. They refer to each other as swisters, short for switched sisters.

The hospital where the women were born has offered them counseling, but neither has accepted the offer.

"We're old women now," Kay Rene said.

They also haven't decided if they'll sue the facility.

And while DeeAnn harbors at least some anger about the situation, Kay Rene said she doesn't because there's no use in it.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.