Surreal barely even begins to cover it. In the process of a breakup, Lydia Fairchild was struggling to keep her head above water. She had two children to take care of, and another one on the way. But when she sought government funding to help her family, she was denied — and became the subject of a criminal investigation.
After receiving strange and conflicting DNA test results, it was claimed that Lydia was not her children’s real mother. She knew she had given birth to them, so how was that possible? The answer would send ripples through the scientific community.
1. Restructuring Life
Everything was changing for 26-year-old Washington state resident Lydia Fairchild, in 2002 when she found herself in the process of separating from her partner, Jamie Townsend. It was a difficult, tangled situation for the young mother of two. While Lydia and Jamie had broken up several times in the past, the timing this time was particularly precarious.
As they sought to restructure their lives apart from one another, Lydia was pregnant with the couple’s third child. She would need to take steps to ensure a proper livelihood and the ability to take care of the children in the future. What she was about to soon discover, however, would threaten her ability to keep them all.
2. Looking Out For Her Children
As the couple went their separate ways, what had previously been their combined income was no longer enough. In order to get financial assistance towards child support to take care of her two small children and the third one on the way, Lydia needed to fill out the application for government funding.
As a required part of the application for aid, both she and Jamie would have to provide samples for a DNA test, just a formality to prove their link to the children for whom they were requesting financial assistance. It seemed routine enough — but what it would uncover would shake their world to its foundations.
3. After The DNA Test
Both parents submitted their DNA test samples prior to getting their application for financial assistance accepted. They did so without any concerns, knowing the children in question were theirs. After a short while, Jamie’s lab results came back proving he was the children’s father, not that there had been any doubt.
However, an extra step was added for Lydia that Jamie had not needed to go through. After Lydia had completed all the formalities of the application for government assistance, in December 2002, she was told to come into the office of the Washington state prosecutor so as to go over the results. What on Earth could that mean?
4. A Strange Meeting
Lydia entered the prosecutor’s office, assuming she was going into a routine session with a government social worker. She thought it was just another prerequisite, part of her responsibility to her children. But something about the representatives’ demeanor seemed off. She sat down, and they shut the door.
Then, the representatives of the prosecutor’s office sat with her and peppered her with questions, asking her who she was, as though they did not understand the information that they had been given. It was not at all a session with a social worker — instead, it was an interrogation. Why were they treating her like this?
5. Being Interrogated
At the Department of Social Services, it suddenly dawned on Lydia that they did not believe her application, wherein she stated that she was the mother of her children. The agency officials were drilling her with questions in a hostile manner, and she felt ill at ease. It was at first unclear why they would react to her in this way.
They suspected she had been actively trying to fool the system in a greedy attempt at grabbing money for herself. Frauding the government was a criminal offense. She couldn’t grasp why they had gone down this train of thought. But it appeared that there had been one part of her application that was shockingly out of line.
6. Weird Science
The DNA test had proven that Jamie was the genetic father of the two children, but in a frighteningly bizarre twist, Lydia herself did not show up as their biological parent. It boggled the mind: as the person who had given birth to them, how could there be any doubt as to the truth of her claim?
She asked the investigators if perhaps something had gone wrong in the lab. Surely there had been a mistake. But they were having none of it, rebuffing Lydia and telling her point blank that DNA test results simply don’t lie. As far as they were concerned, she was not her own children’s mother.
7. A Nightmarish Scenario
The situation that Lydia was suddenly forced to confront was nothing short of incomprehensible. It was almost like they were asking of her to go against her own memory, let alone her sanity. Lydia had no doubt whatsoever that she herself had not only naturally conceived her children, but had carried them to term and had given birth to them.
What’s more, as a consequence of her skewed test results, her now-former partner Jamie was summoned for his own interrogation. Jamie was accused by the state of having sired children with another woman, in accordance with what the DNA test showed. In light of the whole ordeal, Lydia turned to someone who would know the truth: her obstetrician.
8. Professional Opinion
Sure enough, Lydia’s obstetrician, Dr. Leonard Dreisbach, certainly had an opinion about this bizarre chain of events his patient was facing, flabbergasted as he was. He told Lydia, with bitter irony, that he had been in his profession long enough to know when a woman is giving birth before his eyes.
The doctor vowed to Lydia that as the witness to the birth of her first two children, he was prepared to testify on her behalf in court, if it should come to that. Now, the baffled mother had to get a lawyer. The government still did not believe her — and the repercussions could be severe.
9. Searching To Be Believed
Lydia Fairchild found a lawyer willing to take on her case, Alan Tindell. Yet because of the extremely unusual circumstances, even he was skeptical of her at first. Although he had agreed to help her in court, he nonetheless examined her closely on their first meeting, just to make sure.
To rule out any other possibilities, he asked if she was certain these weren’t, in fact, her sister’s children, or her brother’s children, nor had she abducted them from anyone and attempted to pass them off as her own. He saw how insistent she was. There was no lie in her eyes. He believed her — but what had gone on with the DNA test?
10. Falling Apart
Lydia Fairchild was in an awful situation. She was alone trying to parent her two children, heavily pregnant, looking for help, and now she was being called a liar and a fraud, accused of trying to swindle the government. She received a summons in the mail, saying she had to appear in court.
Lydia was now in full danger of losing custody of all her children, based on the accusations lodged against her that had been raised by the inexplicable DNA test results. Her stomach knotted up, and she dissolved into tears. She called her family, filled with fear. How would she prove she wasn’t lying?
11. Emotional Toll
The entire situation was almost too much for Lydia to bear. At meals with her children, as she sat for dinner she would burst into tears. As they rushed to hug her, they didn’t know what was wrong. She tried to shield them from the processes happening behind the scenes that threatened to tear them apart.
She was terrified at the very real prospects of losing everything and everyone she held dear. The frustration of knowing she was not lying, but not being believed by the authorities, was excruciating. What’s more, her baby was on its way — and with the impending birth came new questions demanding answers.
12. An Unusual Birth
Once Lydia and Jamie’s third child was born, the judge ordered that they take the infant’s blood samples. The birthing room was far from ordinary, filled with doctors, a special investigation team, and policemen. Far from being a joyous occasion, it was more like the treatment a suspected criminal might receive.
It was the most frightening scenario for a young mother, the most uncomfortable environment for an already painful and stressful moment. Despite all the witnesses to the birth, the blood samples showed that once again, she was not the genetic mother of the child. It was now clear to all parties involved that something was terribly awry.
13. Even More Tests
As the paranoia and fear consumed her, not knowing what would happen to her or her children, Lydia was subjected to yet another round of testing. She had to do a blood test, and provide tissue samples from her hair, skin, and organs. Still, nothing indicated relation to her children.
The emotional toll would have broken anyone, and Lydia struggled to keep strong in light of the allegations and the endless barrage of stress. Her appetite crashed, and she began to withdraw from society, torn apart by this twisted situation. But something happened that allowed her a ray of light.
14. Somehow Related
As the search for answers widened, Lydia’s own mother agreed to also provide a DNA sample for testing. To her family’s relief, the DNA test results from her offered a breakthrough in the case. They showed that there absolutely was a genetic link between the grandmother and Lydia’s own kids.
That meant that whoever their ‘real’ genetic mother was, she couldn’t be far off from Lydia. This could well have been the medical proof that Lydia needed in order to convince the courts of her relation to her children. But her lawyer was about to stumble across a medical finding that would cast a whole new light on everything.
15. A Medical Anomaly
Across the country, in Boston, a medical anomaly had just been solved. A 52-year-old woman named Karen Keegan had undergone a genetic test in search of a kidney donor, and the exam had somehow showed no link between her and two of her own children. However, the third one did show up as being related.
Because of that one genetic link, doctors pushed forward to do more testing on this patient. Over several years of research utilizing samples from different parts of her body — they discovered something about her that made the New England Journal of Medicine. Lydia’s resourceful lawyer had read the article, and reached out.
16. Forging Links
Karen Keegan’s case had some intriguing elements in it that matched the confusion surrounding Lydia’s parentage claims. After consulting with Karen about her highly unusual story, Lydia Fairchild’s attorney Alan Tindell came to his client with a possible lead on something. It could well have been that she had the same medical curiosity.
Even though she was obviously exhausted by the amount of scrutiny paid to her, Lydia decided that she should undergo one last test: a cervical screening test. If Alan Tindell’s theory was right, her case might match Karen Keegan’s in Boston — and she might be able to prove everyone wrong.
17. Bad Publicity
Nothing happens in a vacuum, particularly to a person accused of committing fraud against the Washington state government. As Lydia’s situation got more and more out of hand, unfortunately, the press caught wind of what was going on. The newspapers began to lambaste her, parading her as a criminal deserving of punishment.
Some elements of the press even went so far as to claim that she had kidnapped her former partner Jamie’s children, assumed to not be biologically her own, and that she was trying to manipulate government officials in order to support herself. But what they were about to find would stun everyone.
18. How Many More Times
The mother of three was prepared to do anything for the children she knew were hers, both for their safety and for the right to retain them under her custody. Her final medical screening test would hopefully be the last test that Lydia would have to undergo as a part of this whole whirlwind ordeal.
After a slew of tests that had taken samples from various parts and materials of her body, the results still didn’t yield any results that showed she was the genetic mother of the three children she had given birth to. But hiding inside her was a condition so rare, it would place her in the textbooks.
19. The Missing Piece
At the bare minimum, Lydia had been able to prove a link between her own mother and the children that she herself had given birth to. The DNA test results from Lydia’s cervical screening came back. For the very first time, they demonstrated a direct, undeniable genetic link between Lydia and her children.
At long last, Lydia could feel vindicated. It was an enormous relief, a watershed moment. After an unimaginable gauntlet, everyone could see she had not been lying. But even if she finally had the proof she needed, how could it be that every other test result had stated the opposite? The answer was astounding.
20. Exceptionally Rare
There was an unusual reason the perplexing DNA test results for Lydia Fairchild and Karen Keegan had not detected their respective genetic links to their children. Both of the women bore a genetic syndrome almost completely unheard of in humans: chimerism. Chimerism has less than 40 documented cases in humans across the globe, making it exceptionally rare.
Chimerism had caused all of the DNA tests to be fooled, except the last one. The key to understanding the condition lay in the gestation period in the womb just after conception, far before these women had been born. As it turned out, there was technically more than one genome providing genetic material in their bodies.
21. The Lost Twin
For humans and animals, the processes behind chimerism are the same. In the womb, chimeras begin as twins. But at a certain point during the early stages of the pregnancy, one of the twins is absorbed by the other. This occurs far before the pregnant mother becomes aware that she was originally going to have twins.
However, the cells of the absorbed twin do not leave the mother’s body. Rather than going away entirely, a portion of them are not fully able to merge with those of the surviving twin. This was the key to understanding what had happened to Lydia. Would it be enough to convince the court?
22. Hiding A Secret
In chimerism, the cells of the previously existing twin do not dissipate, but rather they mass in one specific area within the body of their sibling. In Karen Keegan’s case, a nodule with her twin’s genetic DNA was extracted from her thyroid, and its data matched that of her first two children.
What’s more, the genetic test showed that the DNA in Karen’s thyroid was totally different from that in her hair, blood, and other cells. For Lydia Fairchild, the DNA of her twin had amassed in her womb, which was why her children had not shown up as her own on tests. Finally with some answers, Lydia headed to court.
23. Victory At Last
After 16 months of waiting in vain, wondering what reality she was in where the children she had given birth to were declared to not be genetically her own, the legal case against Lydia Fairchild was at long last dismissed. The judge apologized for having doubted her in the past.
She would be granted the federal assistance she had requested in order to support herself and her three children — children bearing the DNA of her long-lost twin, but were, for all intents and purposes, decidedly hers. To make matters even better, she and Jamie decided once again to give their relationship a try. An enormous weight was lifted off her shoulders. But even Lydia’s case isn’t the most unusual example when it comes to the condition.
24. The Mysteries Of Science
Chimerism was named after the chimera, a mythological Greek monster composed of a lion, a goat, and a serpent, heralding ill fortune for those who witness it. In Lydia and Karen’s cases, their chimerism did not demonstrate any external markings, and was only detectable by way of genetic testing.
But a chimera from a pair of male and female twins can become a hermaphrodite. In the event that a chimera is born that had originally been a set of twins of the same sex, they can on occasion possess a patch of skin or even an eye that is a different color. In animals, however, this can be more extreme.
25. Unique Creations
Modern science is still seeking to further understand the phenomenon of chimerism. In 2017, scientists at the Salk Institute in San Jose, California managed to create a true chimera, that is to say, a hybrid between species. They edited the DNA of a day-old pig embryo, deleting one of its organs, and replacing it with human stem cells.
The fetus grew with a human organ. Scientists hope to be able to use this method in stem-cell research to grow human organs, both for cruelty-free testing as well as donors. For now, even if Lydia’s chimerism had brought her an unbelievable amount of stress, doubt, and external scrutiny, she can now be counted as one of the most unique humans on the planet.
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