Sault Area Hospital is named in an $8-million lawsuit launched by two local men who say they were swapped at birth more than 70 years ago, causing each a great deal of pain and suffering.
The lawsuit was filed last month by two 71-year-old Sault Ste. Marie men born on the same date, who claim recent DNA testing has proven they each went home with the wrong parents on that fateful day in 1952.
The men are seeking $4 million each in the joint claim against the defendants Sault Area Hospital and an unnamed nurse referred to in the filing as Jane Doe.
Their lawyer, Andre Bourdon of Timmins-based Girones Bourdon Kelly Lawyers, said his clients are interested in talking publicly about their ordeal — but not yet.
Sault Area Hospital has yet to file a statement of defence, and none of the allegations contained in the claim have been tested in court. Reached by email, a spokesperson for the hospital offered no comment.
"As this is an active legal matter, we are unable to respond to your inquiry," said Brandy Sharp Young, manager of communications for Sault Area Hospital.
The lawsuit states Howard Dupuis and Leslie Gagnon were both born on March 9, 1952 at the Sault Ste. Marie General Hospital on Queen Street. That Catholic hospital merged in 1993 with the Plummer Memorial Public Hospital to create Sault Area Hospital.
Loretta Dupuis, said to be the biological mother of Leslie Gagnon, was admitted to the hospital on March 8, 1952. On the same date, Katherine Gagnon was also admitted, giving birth the next day to Howard Dupuis.
The lawsuit alleges that both babies were kept in a separate nursery room that could only be accessed by hospital staff.
“The plaintiffs’ biological mothers only had access to their newborns while they lay flat in their respective hospital beds,” the claim says. “The defendants would bring the plaintiffs to the plaintiffs’ mothers’ rooms for short visits. After the short visits, the defendants would return the plaintiffs to the nursery room.”
Leslie and Howard allege DNA testing performed in September 2021 revealed that the parents they each went home with — and grew up with — were not their biological mother and father. In effect, each man ended up living the life intended for the other.
“The only connection that the plaintiffs had was that they were born in the same defendant hospital, on the same day and at very close to the same time of day,” the claim reads.
The statement of claim does not disclose why the DNA testing was conducted, or what led one of the men to suspect that he may have been raised by the wrong parents.
Katherine Gagnon died last September, and all three of the other parents involved died prior to the testing.
The claim says the hospital had full control and access over the plaintiffs as newborns.
Leslie and Howard are each seeking $2 million in general damages, $1 million in special damages and $1 million in punitive damages against the hospital and the unnamed nurse.
As a result of the negligence of the defendants, the plaintiffs say they have undergone a great deal of pain and suffering, including severe stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“The plaintiffs… will continue to incur time and out-of-pocket expense in searching for their entire biological families, searching for their genetic medical background and searching for the truth,” the claim states.
That alleged negligence includes: failure to provide competent hospital care, failing to have a system in place to ensure a swap could not occur, and failure to apply appropriate medical identification bracelets to the children.
Though rare, this is not the first case of Canadian babies being switched at birth.
In 2016, a review was conducted by the RCMP and Health Canada after two sets of Indigenous men born 40 years ago at Norway House Hospital in Manitoba discovered they went home with the wrong families, learning the truth from DNA testing. In that case, the RCMP found no evidence the swap was intentional and no charges were laid.
Dr. David Creery was co-leader of an independent review of that case. He is the medical director of patient safety at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa and a pediatric intensive care physician.
In a telephone interview with SooToday, Creery said there seems to be an increase in the number of people coming forward after genetic testing revealed they had been switched at birth.
“What seems to be happening is more and more people are finding out they are not who they thought they were genetically, that they actually have different biological families," said Creery.
In the Norway House incident, Creery said the review found the processes the hospital used in the 1970s were not very solid and a lot of positive changes have been made in years since, like attaching the baby's identification band in the same room in which they are born.
He said the Norway House reviewers had many challenges because of the amount of time that passed since the swap.
“We couldn’t find any staff that worked there at the time, we couldn’t have a direct conversation and even if we had I don’t think they would have remembered," said Creery.
“For these men there was a road not taken in their lives and they would have had a different life, and that can be pretty challenging," he said.
Speaking in general terms about how to look at cases of babies swapped at birth, Creery said there are many questions to explore.
“What processes were followed at the hospital when the event occurred and was there a gap or a deviation? Did they not do something they were supposed to do or were the processes generally lax? That would be the question I would ask,” he said.