Kim Mays, biological family involved in switched-at-birth scandal, custody battle describe navigating troubled times

Kim Mays was switched at birth with Arlena Twigg, who died at 9 years old.

Kim Mays first made national headlines when her biological family discovered she’d been switched at birth three decades ago.

But between the family that raised her and the family she discovered she belonged to, when asked whom she considers to be her mother now, Mays said, “I really don’t feel I have one.”

“I try not to dwell on [the past]. I try not to have anger. I try to move forward the best I can,” ” Mays, 40, told “20/20.”

In 1978, two pregnant women in labor entered Hardee Memorial Hospital, in rural Wauchula, Florida. Barbara Mays gave birth to a baby girl with a severe heart condition on Nov. 29, 1978, and Regina Twigg gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Dec. 2, 1978.

Kim, Regina Twigg’s healthy baby, was given to Barbara and Bob Mays, who raised her as their daughter, while the Mays’ biological daughter who had the heart condition was given to Regina and Ernest Twigg and raised as Arlena.

For nine years, Arlena and Kim grew up in their respective homes -- Kim as an only child and Arlena with seven brothers and sisters.

“She was the sweetest, sweetest little, precious little child that you ever, ever have known in your entire life,” said Regina Twigg said of Arlena.

“She liked to draw. She loved dolls. ... Typical little girl things,” said Gina Twigg, Arlena’s sister. “She'd come outside with us, but she couldn't be out in the heat. She couldn't run with us. I remember bike riding as a kid, and she just was never with us during those activities. She just couldn't.”

It was eventually decided that Arlena, who had a congenital heart defect, needed to have open-heart surgery. She survived the operation but died of complications soon after surgery. She was 9 years old.

“When Arlena first died, I was grieving so horribly,” Regina Twigg said. “We still live with that pain. We still live with the loss… we still grieve to this very day.”

Her family learned that Arlena might not be their biological child when tests taken before her surgery showed her having a different blood type than either of her parents. Genetic testing later confirmed Arlena was not the child Twigg had given birth to.

“I was very shocked,” said Irisa Roylance, the Twiggs’ oldest child, “but she was my sister, so it didn't matter to me.”

After Arlena’s death, Regina and Ernest Twigg started searching for their biological daughter. Within a few weeks, they learned that Kim Mays and Arlena Twigg had been the only two white infants born at Hardee Memorial in that same week.

It was Bob Mays who broke the news of the switch to then 9-year-old Kimberly. Barbara Mays had died of cancer when Kim was just a little over two years old. Kim was nearly ten years old when the man she always knew as her father told her that she might not be his biological daughter.

“He had to sit me down and was like, ‘Look, there's another family. Their little girl died. Her blood did not match theirs. You were the only other baby born at Hardee Memorial Hospital, and they found you through a detective,’” Kim said.

“[He said] ‘I just want to let you know that you are my daughter. I love you, no matter what the tests come back, but you have to take a blood test,’" she added.

The story of the switch broke in 1988 and caused a media sensation. Bob Mays resisted genetic testing on Kim at first, but eventually he agreed to a genetic test, which determined that Arlena and Kim had gone home with the wrong parents.

Regina Twigg thinks the switch was deliberate and that Bob and Barbara Mays and possibly Barbara’s parents were in on it (Barbara Mays’ parents are now dead). Bob Mays said he had no knowledge of the switch. His attorney said he had passed a lie detector test “with flying colors."

Twigg believes that Dr. Ernest Palmer, a family practitioner at the hospital, ordered nurses or nurses’ aides to switch the babies’ ID bands. She believes the medical staff behind the switch felt sorry for Barbara Mays because she had been trying to have a baby for years and then gave birth to a baby who wasn't expected to live long, while the Twiggs already had five children at that point. Palmer has since died.

“They give me the sick baby and give Barbara the healthy baby,” Regina Twigg said. “[Barbara Mays’ parents] wanted her to have a healthy baby… They just were convinced that baby was going to die.”

After the switch came to light, both families sued the hospital and were ultimately awarded multimillion-dollar settlements. A newspaper report at the time said, “The hospital has not admitted any fault in the case.”

Regina Twigg, a school teacher who had been raised in an orphanage and then adopted by a family she said was abusive, pushed for the right to see Kimberly and develop a relationship with her.

“Bob Mays did not want us in his life or [us to have] any connection to Kimberly,” Twigg said. “We were told just to go away… we were intruding into their lives.”

Darlena Mays, Bob Mays’ third wife, said he was an “attentive” father who loved Kim and felt that his family was at stake. Bob Mays said in interviews at the time that he was also concerned about the emotional impact visitation would have on the young girl.

“He was committed to do whatever was best for Kim,” Darlena Mays said. “Kim may have not been Bob's biological daughter, but in every other sense of the word, she was his daughter, and protecting her and keeping her close, you don't just walk away from that because you find out that there could've possibly been a switch.”

Kim Mays and the Twiggs had five visits together which were recorded on home video and show Kim laughing and hugging her siblings. After the fifth visit in October 1980, Bob Mays cancelled the next visit. He said that Kim’s grades were suffering and her attitude at home toward him and Darlena Mays had deteriorated.

The Twiggs went to court to get visitation, trying various legal stratagems. In the summer of 1993, Mays, then 14, petitioned a state judge for a legal “divorce” from her biological parents, the Twiggs, with the intent to deny them visitation rights, and she won.

Looking back on it now, Kim said she didn’t fully understand the impact of the decision at the time.

"I wanted to know about the Twiggs," she said. "I wanted to know what my biological family was like. I made a mistake... I regret divorcing the Twiggs."

In November 1993, Patsy Webb, a nurse’s aide from the hospital where the babies had been switched, came forward, claiming that Dr. Palmer had told her to switch the ID bracelets. She refused to do it, she claimed, but told the doctor she would keep quiet, fearing that she would lose her job and health insurance if she spoke up. She said she saw the next day that the babies had been switched.

Webb decided to come forward because she was dying, her son told “20/20,” and she wanted to clear her conscience before she died.

“She said they swapped the identity bands,” James Webb said. “My mother said there [were]… two, three people involved with it, and the one baby was real sick. … She didn't make the decision. She went along with it and that's what made her feel guilty.”

Regina Twigg said she had been told when she first discovered the switch that the statute of limitations had run out to pursue criminal charges.

As for Kim Mays, the shocking and incredibly emotional twists and turns of her childhood weighed on her.

"I don't really feel like I've had a mother growing up. That's where the confusion comes from," she said.

Six months after Barbara Mays’ death, Bob Mays married Cindy Tanner, a receptionist at the cancer center of the hospital. Kim said she believed Tanner was her mother until she was 6 years old, when Bob Mays told her about Barbara.

“I had a rough childhood,” Kim Mays said. “I lost a parent. … My dad's like, ‘Well, you lost your parent when you were young. … She [Tanner] is a stepmom.’”

Bob Mays and Tanner divorced after seven years together, and then he married Darlena Mays in 1990.

Kim Mays now says the man who raised her, Bob Mays, was very controlling and she ran away from home several times.

When she was 15, she ended up at a YMCA shelter and then asked to live with the Twiggs whom she had divorced just a few months earlier.

"I was going through a lot of emotion. So I ran away, and I went to the Twiggs' house. I stayed there a year and a half to two years almost," she said.

Mays left the Twiggs two weeks before she turned 18. She got married to her first husband and they had a son together.

“Losing my mom at two, to [Bob Mays] getting remarried right away, to him divorcing her, then finding another relationship to jump into, then the switch, and then, other stuff that occurred,” she said. “It's a lot to process as a child. I just didn't handle it very well at the time, unfortunately.”

Kim Mays said when she was 18 she made a decision she now regrets. She sold her interest in the money she received from the hospital to an annuity company in a structured settlement. She says as a result, she cannot get access to any of it until she is 70 years old.

She said she continued to go through hardship into her adult years. She and her first husband divorced and their son, now an adult, was raised by her ex-husband and his family.

“I was young. I didn't know how to mother,” she said. “I didn't know how to take a crying child and I made mistakes in my life that I can't undo. But I knew he was going to be cared for and loved, and that's all I wanted for him.”

Today, she is remarried and has five additional children. She says she wants to go back to school and get her G.E.D.

The relationships between Kim Mays and her two living mother figures -- Darlena Mays and Regina Twigg -- remain strained and she’s not regularly in touch with them. Bob Mays died in 2012. Kim had not been in touch with either of them for some time before his death.

However, Kim Mays said when she is in contact with Darlena, her stepmother has been very good to her.

Mays is currently estranged from all her Twigg family members including Regina Twigg. Still, she feels sympathy now for Regina and the entire Twigg family.

"I feel bad for both sides, [the] Twiggs and everyone involved," Kim Mays said. "[Arlena] passed away and then they poured everything into finding me, so they went through a lot."

"I was never close with Regina," she added. "But I do know she has a good heart. She's been through a lot."

Regina Twigg is now divorced from Ernest Twigg, remarried, and following her passion for music as a singer/songwriter. She said having a relationship with her biological daughter has been difficult.

"I would say to Kim that I hope life will be positive for her and good for her. I will always love her," she said. "In spite of the pain of what happened in the past, like it is said, 'You put one foot ahead of the other and just carry on.'"

Kim Mays said she also feels sorry for Arlena. She said she has wondered what the baby she was switched with would have been like today had she lived.

"I feel bad for Arlena, because here it is, I'm 40. She would have been 40,” Kim Mays said, “I heard so many good stories about her, that she was really sweet … Her life was way too short.”