A British man and his wife, who believe their son was swapped with another newborn at a hospital in El Salvador and sold to child traffickers, have made an emotional public plea for his return.
Richard Cushworth and his Salvadoran wife Mercedes Casanellas live in Dallas, Texas. In May they travelled to the Central American country so that Ms Casanellas could give birth in her homeland. But three months later, after returning to the US and growing increasingly concerned that the baby looked nothing like them, the couple had a DNA test, which confirmed the child was not their son.
Mr Cushworth and Ms Casanellas have reportedly investigated every other male child born at the prestigious Ginecologico private hospital in the Salvadoran capital, San Salvador, on the same day as theirs, and found that all of them are with their genetic parents. They now say they are convinced their own light-skinned baby was switched by hospital staff, to be sold to traffickers.
Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Alejandro Guidos, who treated Ms Casanellas and delivered her baby, has been arrested and accused of organising the plot. In an interview with a Salvadoran television station, a distraught Ms Casanellas said: “We haven’t been able to sleep, thinking about where he is and who has him. We just want them to give us our son back.”
Several times during her pregnancy, Dr Guidos had insisted her baby would be dark-skinned, despite having a white father, Ms Casanellas said. “I always thought that was strange. How would he know that from the ultra-sound scans, and why would he keep saying it?” When the baby was first born, he looked just like Mr Cushworth, including his complexion. “He was very white and had similar features,” Ms Casanellas recalled. The couple took pictures of their newborn son, which clearly show a light-skinned child.
Shortly after the birth, however, an anaesthetist allegedly gave Ms Casanellas a sedative, and she slept until the following morning. When staff brought her baby back to her, she said: “I saw that he was very different to the one I had held in the delivery room. When I changed his clothes I noticed that his genitals were very dark, and not rosy like how I’d remembered. I said to the nurse, ‘Look, his genitals are very dark,’ and she told me, ‘No, that’s normal’.”
The hospital, which was reputed to be the best private unit in El Salvador, has begun an investigation of the incident and vowed to “rectify” the situation. The Salvadoran Attorney General, meanwhile, has ordered a criminal probe into the child’s disappearance.
The El Salvador Gynaecology and Obstetrics Association came to the defence of Dr Guidos, with a spokesman saying: “When an obstetrician attends a birth, whether naturally or by caesarean, it is normal that the baby is immediately handed over to the neo-natologist or paediatric nurse. So if there is any swapping of the baby it is impossible for the obstetrician to do this.”
Originally from West Yorkshire, Mr Cushworth met his wife while working as a missionary in El Salvador. “It’s a horrible situation,” he said. “Someone took my child and I have no idea where he is, who is taking care of him, what has happened to him. It’s awful.”
The couple said that if the real parents of the baby they have been caring for are never found, they will raise the child as their own. “Even though we know he isn’t our biological son, we still love him,” Ms Casanellas said.
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