Switched-at-birth Fred forgives

A Kiwi man switched at birth and raised in another person's family has forgiven the hospital that made the mistake.

Fred George and Jim Churchman were born two hours apart at Dunedin's Queen Mary Hospital in 1946, but were placed in the wrong bassinets at the hospital.

They did not discover the mixup until 57 years later.

Mr George, who now lives in the United States, was a blond-haired, shy boy who grew up in a Catholic Lebanese family along with 13 siblings in Dunedin.

Mr Churchman, a dark-haired child, was raised in a Scottish Presbyterian family of five.

Both families and both men had doubts about their heritage as they grew up.

Although they lived at opposite sides of Dunedin, the family resemblances were spotted when Mr Churchman became friends with Mr George's brother.

"People teased me when I was younger, they said: `You're a Churchman' ... but I didn't want to know."

They decided to test their suspicions when Mr George was visiting Dunedin in 2005. Analysis of the pair's DNA established the truth.

Mr George, now 62, was back in New Zealand on holiday this week.

He said he was not angry at the hospital error, but that he had spent most of his life in the middle of an "identity crisis".

Mr George said he and Mr Churchman received a payment of $53,000 each from Otago District Health Board after the mistake was confirmed, less than $1000 for each of the years they were unaware of the mixup.

Family photos, displayed in the book Switched at Birth: My Life in Someone Else's World that Mr George wrote, clearly showed a vast difference in appearance between the boys and who they thought were their siblings.

But the physical appearance was not the only obvious contrast.

Mr George said he was less outgoing than the gregarious George family, and some mannerisms differed as well.

It all made sense after Mr George was reunited with his birth mother, Helen Churchman, who still lives in Dunedin, aged 88.

He said she had written to him every week since she discovered that he was her biological son five years ago. "It was an unusual thing to happen," she told the Patriot Ledger in the US. "But ... it's fine. I've got two sons now ... it's lovely for Fred to be part of our family."

The Dominion Post