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Switched at Birth: Two Friends Stunned by Mix-Up at Remote Canada Hospital

It's believed to be the second such swap at Norway House Indian Hospital in northern Manitoba in 1975.
Image: Leon Swanson
Norway House resident Leon Swanson weeps at a press conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 26.John Woods / AP

Two men in Canada believe they were switched at birth at a federally run hospital in a remote region of the country 41 years ago — the second such mix-up the hospital experienced that same year.

The friends, David Tait Jr. and Leon Swanson, were born three days apart at Norway House Indian Hospital in northern Manitoba in the winter of 1975.

Members of their tiny indigenous community always joked that the two resembled the others' parents, Swanson told reporters last Friday at a news conference in Winnipeg. The two decided to undergo DNA testing after another set of men, Norman Barkman and Luke Monias from the nearby Garden Hill First Nation community, discovered last November through DNA tests that they had been switched at birth at the same hospital, also in 1975.

Manitoba's former aboriginal affairs minister Eric Robinson, center, announces at a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 26, that Leon Swanson, left, and David Tait Jr, right, were switched at birth in 1975 when their mothers gave birth at Norway House Indian Hospital.John Woods / Canadian Press via AP

Tait's real parents were confirmed recently by the DNA results, former Manitoba aboriginal affairs minister Eric Robinson said at the news conference. Swanson's results are still pending.

Even without Swanson's results officially in, the men were overwhelmed with emotion when speaking about being sent home with the wrong families as newborns.

Tait said he was "just distraught, confused, angry," while Swanson wiped away tears.

Robinson called it "unacceptable" that there had been two mix-ups.

“I can't describe this matter as anything less than criminal,” he said. “What happened here is lives were stolen. You can’t describe it as anything less than that.”

Norway House resident Leon Swanson weeps at a press conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 26.John Woods / AP

Health Canada, the country's federal health department, paid for the DNA testing and is supporting the men with mental health resources, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters last Friday.

"It's impossible to describe how tragic the situation is, obviously [not just] for the two gentlemen in question, but for their families and for the entire communities. It's appalling," she said.

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Health Canada is reviewing files from the hospital during that time period and has hired "an independent third party to do a dedicated and thorough investigation of all available hospital records from the period to determine what happened and whether there is any other cause for concern beyond the two cases identified," she added in a statement that was emailed to NBC News.

Norway House resident David Tait Jr. listens to a reporter during a press conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 26.John Woods / AP

Norway House no longer does elective births. Pregnant women who live in the area only deliver there in emergency situations — which amount to about six births a year, Philpott said. Babies born there are then fitted with an identification band and med-evaced to regional hospitals in Thompson and Winnipeg.

But officials don't know if there will be other switched-at-birth cases from years ago that will be found. Health Canada said it will make the findings of the independent review public.

Tait and Swanson's families stood by their sides at the press conference and said their love for their sons was unwavering.

"We agreed that we're going to be one family. I have an extra son," David Tait Sr. later told Canada's CTV News.