Parents swap babies after hospital mix-up

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Two baby girls mistakenly swapped at birth in a Czech hospital have been returned to their parents in time to celebrate their first birthday.

The girls were born 18 minutes apart in a hospital in the town of Trebic, close to the Austrian border. Something appeared amiss from the outset: both mothers were astonished to see the weight of their new-borns diverge dramatically from that recorded at the time of birth. But hospital staff assured them that the birth weight must have been taken wrongly.

Mothers and babies went to their respective homes but Libor Broza, father of one of the girls, named Nikola, became suspicious because his alleged daughter did not look remotely like him. He secretly took a DNA test which confirmed that he could not be the girl's biological father. Then his partner, Jaroslava Trojanova, took a similar test, with a similar result. Both were devastated, they said, and Ms Trojanova cried for two hours. Then they called the hospital.

The hospital's director, Peter Mayer, investigated, then contacted Jan and Jaroslava Cermak, the parents of the other little girl, Veronika, who was born at his hospital on the same day, and broke the news to them.

The couples and babies met for the first time at a secret location and shared information about the babies they had raised. They talked about what they liked to eat, their health histories and other intimate baby issues.

Mr Broza told Czech radio: "Our daughter looks so much like me that I don't need any DNA tests to know she's mine. Of course we're happy, but we also feel terrible.

"We have raised Nikola for the past 10 months. She's a beautiful little girl who's always smiling and it's impossible to imagine her now living apart from us. But at the same time, just 20 miles away lives our real daughter." On the advice of psychologists, they began swapping babies for hours then days at a time, to habituate themselves to the fact that one would shortly be going and the other arriving, for good. But the process did not go smoothly. Days after the first meeting, Ms Trojanova, a factory worker, declared that she could not go through with the swap. "She is my daughter," she told The Daily Telegraph. "I cannot look at her in any other way. I cannot imagine separating from her.

Mr Broza, a 29-year-old lorry driver, said: "I cannot even describe in words how horrible this feels. How could this have happened? I feel enraged and helpless." The other parents said that they were prepared to wait until Ms Trojanova felt able to let Nikola go.

Finally, after weeks of consultation, both couples agreed to exchange their children sooner rather than later. Dr Mayer, who apologised for the hospital's error, has taken a cut in salary. The clinic in Trebic, 100 miles south-east of Prague, called it a "regrettable" case and a result of "serious mistakes" made by two nurses who since have been fired. Five other staff members have been disciplined. Police investigated but no charges were filed.