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Move over, teleseryes. These are real-life dramas of baby switching in Manila, Colombia and the US

By ERIC CABAHUG Published Mar 03, 2021 9:50 pm

Switching and separating babies are just figments of teleserye writers’ wild imaginations, right? Think again.

The Department of Health has just documented the first case of baby switching in the Philippines. It involves two couples that gave birth in January in the same hospital in Rizal.

The real-life drama started when Aphril Sifiata noticed that the baby the hospital gave them to bring home did not look like the one she and husband held in their arms shortly after Aphril gave birth. The latter had a short nose and thick eyebrows, eyelashes, and bushy hair; the former had thinner hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows.

And then there was the info on the baby tag. The birth date was January 17 and not 18 and the family name was not Sifiata.

The Sifiatas contacted the hospital and both parties agreed to a DNA test for Aphril and the baby. The couple also brought their story to Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, which arranged a second DNA test. The results were the same. Negative.

 Marvin and Aphril Sifiata’s baby (left), and Margareth Traballo and Kim Jasper Mulleno’s baby. Screenshots from Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho
The two sets of parents see their babies on a video call for the first time since they left the hospital.

Aphril was not the baby’s biological mother.

It was only after these DNA tests when the other couple, Margareth Traballo and Kim Jasper Mulleno, started to cooperate in the probe. They initially dismissed the switching claim, believing that the baby they got was biologically theirs.

Three more DNA tests were done—one for Margareth and the baby they brought home, one for Margareth and the baby with Aphril, one for Aphril and the baby with Margareth. The results proved the Sifiatas right. Their babies were indeed switched.

The drama unfolded over the course of five weeks.

That’s nothing compared to the case of two pairs of separated identical twins in Colombia and the one of separated triplets in the US. Each case took many, many years to unravel and one involved an actual elaborate conspiracy. Both are very ripe for a series or movie.

Colombian identical twins

Two sets of identical twins that were switched and raised as fraternal twins. Photo by Stefan Ruiz/The New York Times 

William and Jorge were born as identical twins in a hospital in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, on Dec. 21, 1988. Wilber and Carlos were born also as identical twins a day later in Santander, a northeastern province of Colombia that’s close to the Venezuelan border.

But it’s William and Wilber who grew up together in Santander and Carlos and Jorge in Bogota. Both pairs thought they were fraternal twins when in fact they had no blood relations. They also had no idea about their real brothers living in another part of the country.

It took a serendipitous encounter in 2013 for the journey of discovery to get going.

It happened when one of Jorge’s officemates in the engineering firm in Bogota where he was working at went with a friend to a butcher’s shop to buy some meat. Entering the store, Jorge’s friend was very surprised to see someone very familiar working behind the counter slicing beef and cutting pigs’ feet.

She had no doubt it was Jorge. In fact she was so sure it was her officemate that even when the butcher did not acknowledge her when she greeted him with a big wave and her friend introduced him as William, she wondered why Jorge would pretend to be someone else.

It took an exchange of pictures and much hemming and hawing over seven long months before the four men finally met. It was already 2014—full 25 years since they were separated practically at birth.

How did that happen when they were born in different hospitals in two different parts of Colombia? Apparently when Carlos fell ill shortly after being born, he and his twin Wilber were taken to the hospital where William and Jorge were born and were still staying in. They could only surmise that they were all placed in the same room and that their baby tags fell off and replaced on the wrong babies, leading to the accidental mix-up.

American identical triplets

David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland, the triplets in the documentary Three Identical Strangers.

There was no mix-up in the story of American identical triplets David Kellman, Bobby Shafran, and Eddy Galland. But theirs is a tale that’s been called surreal, disturbing, and even sinister.

None of them knew they had identical siblings until they were 19 years old. The year was 1980 and Bobby was an incoming student at a community college in New York. On his first day in school, he was very surprised at the very friendly welcome he got from many students on campus. Turns out they mistook him for a former classmate named Eddy Galland who looked exactly like him.

It didn’t take long for Bobby and Eddy to meet each other. It was then when they found out that they shared the same birthday and were both adopted through the same adoption agency. They figured right away that they were twins.

Their story quickly landed in the news and the “twins” became instant media celebrities. It was actually in one of those news features that David first got acquainted with Bobby and Eddy—and surmised that he, having the exact same physical features, was a part of the story too.

What none of them knew at the time was the story behind their adoption. And they would not find it out until 15 years later through a probe by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright into a secret study conducted by a psychologist named Dr. Peter Neubauer together with the agency behind the triplets’ adoption.

The study? A psychological experiment in which identical siblings were separated from each other and intentionally placed in families from markedly different social classes to see how the environments impact their growth and development (monitored by a team of researchers through regular home visits presented as standard practice for adoptive families) It wasn’t only the children that were kept in the dark that they had siblings; the adoptive parents were also never told.

The story of Eddy, Bobby, and Eddy has been told for the screen in a 2018 award-winning documentary titled Three Identical Strangers, which is currently streaming on Netflix.