Supplied  Kimberly Mays
Supplied Kimberly Mays

Deathbed confession: Moment that tore two families apart

A woman who was switched at birth and raised with her non-biological family has opened up about the extraordinary twists and turns which shaped her life.

Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg were born three days apart at the Hardee Memorial Hospital, in rural Wauchula, Florida, in 1978.

While in the maternity ward nursery, an unidentified person unclipped the name tags wrapped around their tiny wrists, and swapped them. It was a moment that went on to tear countless lives apart.

Soon after, Regina and Ernest Twigg's healthy baby was given to Bob and Barbara Mays. And the Mays' daughter, born with a severe heart condition, was given to the Twiggs. It wasn't until nine years later when Arlena tragically died from heart failure that the mix-up was discovered.

It's been 30 years since Kimberly Mays learned the truth about her family and her own identity. But mystery still surrounds how the switch occurred and whether or not it was done deliberately or by mistake.

No one has ever been held responsible for the act but many people involved, including Kimberly, have theories about what happened - and who's to blame.

In a yet-to-air interview with ABC News' 20/20, several surviving family members - including Kimberly - and hospital staff have spoken about the shocking ordeal.

Kimberly, now 40, told the program she has tried to "move forward the best (she) can". But it's been anything but easy.

For nine years, Kimberly and Arlena grew up in their respective homes - Kimberly as an only child and Arlena with seven brothers and sisters.

Regina Twigg described her non-biological daughter, Arlena, as "the sweetest, sweetest little, precious little child that you ever, ever have known in your entire life".


Arlena Twigg died at age 9.
Arlena Twigg died at age 9.



Kimberly Mays. Picture: Investigation Discovery Channel
Kimberly Mays. Picture: Investigation Discovery Channel


Arlena's sister Gina Twigg told the program: "She liked to draw (and) loved dolls. ... Typical little girl things".

"She'd come outside with us, but she couldn't be out in the heat," Gina continued. "She couldn't run with us. I remember bike riding as a kid, and she just was never with us during those activities. She just couldn't."

It was eventually decided that Arlena, who had a congenital heart defect, needed to have open-heart surgery. She survived the operation but died of complications soon after surgery. She was just nine years old.

"When Arlena first died, I was grieving so horribly," Regina said. "We still live with that pain. We still live with the loss… we still grieve to this very day."

But the tragedy quickly spiralled into something much worse when the Twigg family learned that Arlena might not be their biological child.

The revelation came after tests taken before Arlena's surgery showed she had a different blood type to them.

Genetic testing later confirmed Arlena was not the child Regina had given birth to.

"I was very shocked," Irisa Roylance, the Twiggs' oldest child, said. "But she was my sister, so it didn't matter to me."

Following Arlena's death, Regina and Ernest started searching for their biological daughter. Within a few weeks, they learned that Kimberly and Arlena had been the only two white infants born at Hardee Memorial in that same week.

Bob Mays, the only father Kimberly had ever known, soon had the task of breaking the news of the switch to the nine-year-old child.

His wife Barbara had died of cancer when Kimberly was just over two years old.

"He had to sit me down and was like, 'Look, there's another family. Their little girl died. Her blood did not match theirs. You were the only other baby born at Hardee Memorial Hospital, and they found you through a detective'," Kimberly told ABC News' 20/20.


Kimberly aged 11 in a home video when visiting the Twiggs.
Kimberly aged 11 in a home video when visiting the Twiggs.



Kimberly Mays in a 2015 interview.
Kimberly Mays in a 2015 interview.


"(He said) 'I just want to let you know that you are my daughter. I love you, no matter what the tests come back, but you have to take a blood test'."

The story made headlines around the world when it broke in 1988. Bob resisted genetic testing on Kimberly at first, but eventually agreed, and it was determined that Arlena and Kimberly had gone home with the wrong parents.

Regina Twigg believes the switch was deliberate and that Bob and Barbara Mays and possibly Barbara's parents - who have since died - were in on it.

Bob said he had no knowledge of the switch. His lawyer said he had passed a lie-detector test "with flying colours".

In the interview with ABC News' 20/20, Regina alleged that Dr Ernest Palmer, a family practitioner at the hospital, ordered nurses or nurses' aides to switch the babies' ID bands.

She believes the medical staff behind the switch felt sorry for Barbara because she had been trying to have a baby for years and then gave birth to one who wasn't expected to live long, while the Twiggs already had five children at that point.

Dr Palmer has since died.

"They give me the sick baby and give Barbara the healthy baby," Regina said.

"[Barbara Mays' parents] wanted her to have a healthy baby… They just were convinced that baby was going to die."


Kimberly Mays.
Kimberly Mays.



After the switch came to light, both families sued the hospital and were ultimately awarded multimillion-dollar settlements.

A newspaper report at the time said: "The hospital has not admitted any fault in the case". Regina, a schoolteacher who had been raised in an orphanage and then adopted by a family she said was abusive, pushed for the right to see Kimberly and develop a relationship with her.

"Bob Mays did not want us in his life or [us to have] any connection to Kimberly," Regina told ABC News' 20/20.

"We were told just to go away… we were intruding into their lives."

Darlena Mays, Bob's third wife, said he was an "attentive" father who loved Kimberly and felt that his family was at stake.

Bob said in interviews at the time that he was also concerned about the emotional impact visitation would have on the young girl.

"He was committed to do whatever was best for Kimberly," Darlena said. "Kimberly may have not been Bob's biological daughter, but in every other sense of the word, she was his daughter, and protecting her and keeping her close, you don't just walk away from that because you find out that there could have possibly been a switch."

Kimberly and the Twiggs have met five times. Their visits were recorded on home video and show Kimberly laughing and hugging her siblings.

Following the fifth visit in October 1980, Bob cancelled the next meeting.

He said that Kimberly's grades were suffering and her attitude at home toward him and Darlena had deteriorated.

The Twiggs went to court to get visitation rights.

In the 1993, Kimberly, then 14, petitioned a state judge for a legal "divorce" from her biological parents, with the intent to deny them visitation, and she won.

Looking back on it now, Kimberly said she didn't fully understand the impact of the decision at the time.

"I wanted to know about the Twiggs," she told the program. "I wanted to know what my biological family was like. I made a mistake... I regret divorcing the Twiggs."


Kimberly with her biological dad.
Kimberly with her biological dad.



In November 1993, Patsy Webb, a nurse's aide from the hospital where the babies had been switched, came forward, claiming that Dr Palmer had told her to switch the ID bracelets.

She refused to do it, she claimed, but told the doctor she would keep quiet, fearing that she would lose her job and health insurance if she spoke up.

She said she saw the next day that the babies had been switched.

Ms Webb decided to come forward because she was dying, her son told 20/20, and she wanted to clear her conscience before she died.

"She said they swapped the identity bands," James Webb said.

"My mother said there [were]… two, three people involved with it, and the one baby was real sick. … She didn't make the decision. She went along with it and that's what made her feel guilty."

Regina Twigg said she had been told when she first discovered the switch that the statute of limitations had run out to pursue criminal charges.

As for Kimberly, the shocking and incredibly emotional twists and turns of her childhood weighed on her.

"I don't really feel like I've had a mother growing up. That's where the confusion comes from," she said.

Six months after Barbara Mays' death, Bob married Cindy Tanner, a receptionist at the cancer centre of the hospital.

Kimberly said she believed Ms Tanner was her mother until she was six years old, when Bob told her about Barbara.

"I had a rough childhood," Kimberly said. "I lost a parent. … My dad's like, 'Well, you lost your parent when you were young. … She (Ms Tanner) is a stepmum'."

Kimberly told ABC News' 20/20 that Bob was very controlling and she ran away from home several times.

When she was 15, she ended up at a YMCA shelter and then asked to live with the Twiggs whom she had divorced just a few months earlier.

"I was going through a lot of emotion. So I ran away, and I went to the Twiggs' house. I stayed there a year and a half to two years almost," she said.

Kimberly left the Twiggs two weeks before she turned 18. She married her first husband and they had a son together.

"Losing my mum at two, to [Bob Mays] getting remarried right away, to him divorcing her, then finding another relationship to jump into, then the switch, and then, other stuff that occurred," she said.

"It's a lot to process as a child. I just didn't handle it very well at the time, unfortunately." Kimberly said when she was 18 she made a decision she now regrets.

She sold her interest in the money she received from the hospital to an annuity company in a structured settlement. She says as a result, she cannot get access to any of it until she is 70 years old.

She said she continued to go through hardship into her adult years. She and her first husband divorced and their son, now an adult, was raised by her ex-husband and his family.

"I was young. I didn't know how to mother," she said. "I didn't know how to take a crying child and I made mistakes in my life that I can't undo. But I knew he was going to be cared for and loved, and that's all I wanted for him."


Kimberly Mays interviewed this year about the ordeal.
Kimberly Mays interviewed this year about the ordeal.



Today, she is remarried and has five additional children.

The relationships between Kimberly and her two living mother figures - Darlena Mays and Regina Twigg - remain strained and she's not regularly in touch with them.

Bob died in 2012. Kimberly told the program she hadn't been in touch with him for some time before his death.

Kimberly is currently estranged from all her Twigg family members including Regina.

Still, she feels sympathy now for Regina and the entire Twigg family.

"I feel bad for both sides, [the] Twiggs and everyone involved," she said.

"[Arlena] passed away and then they poured everything into finding me, so they went through a lot."

"I was never close with Regina," she added.

"But I do know she has a good heart. She's been through a lot."

Regina is now divorced from Ernest Twigg, remarried, and following her passion for music as a singer/songwriter.

She said having a relationship with her biological daughter has been difficult.

"I would say to Kimberly that I hope life will be positive for her and good for her. I will always love her," she said.

"Despite the pain of what happened in the past, like it is said, 'You put one foot ahead of the other and just carry on'."

Kimberly said she also feels sorry for Arlena. She said she has wondered what the baby she was switched with would have been like today had she lived.

"I feel bad for Arlena, because here it is, I'm 40. She would have been 40," Kimberly said, "I heard so many good stories about her, that she was really sweet … Her life was way too short."