Mistie Fritz, 17, gave birth a month prematurely at a Roanoke hospital on Feb. 6. Her baby, whom she named Jasmaine, had severe birth defects and was moved to the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Six weeks later, Jasmaine died, and Mistie asked to take the baby's body with her back to Roanoke, so the remains could be buried near the family. The hospital put the baby's body in a small white plastic casket for transport. As Mistie and her boyfriend were about to drive away, she realized she had forgotten a baby blanket. Hospital employees searched the morgue and found the blanket. They also found Jasmaine's body.Mistie then opened the little coffin. Inside was the body of someone else's baby.
U-Va. hospital had switched another pair of babies, just three months before the world would learn that newborns Callie Marie Johnson and Rebecca Grace Chittum had been sent home from there with the wrong mothers three years earlier.
``By the time they realized what was going on, they had found Jasmaine,' said Rhonda Fritz, Mistie's mother. ``It wasn't a very pleasant thing. But Mistie was more upset to realize that another infant had died.
``Thank goodness they had not left the parking lot. Thank God it didn't go that far.'
Rhonda Fritz said Friday that her daughter did not want to talk about the incident, but she and her boyfriend are hiring a lawyer. She said the family was too upset about losing the child to think about suing the hospital at the time, saying they assumed it was an honest mistake. But Rhonda Fritz got angry last month when she saw hospital officials claiming that their safety procedures were foolproof in the case of Callie Marie and Rebecca.
``I was mad because of their initial statements,' she said. ``The hospital administrator said it rarely happens. I thought, it happens, even in the morgue.'
Hospital officials confirmed the family's account of the incident, and said the mix-up happened because the hospital employee who put the baby's body into the ``burial cradle' before giving it to Mistie didn't check the cardboard tag that is attached to each body bag.
``Sickening as it is to say, yes it did happen,' said hospital spokeswoman Marguerite Beck. ``The person that released the remains just didn't check the tag on the body bag. Of course, it was corrected immediately. The hospital administrator talked with the family and apologized.'
Mistie was given the coffin at 2 p.m. on March 22, Beck said. Hospital records indicate that the hospital administrator was contacted 19 minutes later and told there was a problem. She said the administrator, who she would not name, immediately met with the Fritz family.
There is no indication in medical records that the family of the other dead child ever learned of the incident, Beck said.
Beck said the hospital did not fire the employee, who she declined to name. She said that employee and others were given a stern lecture about the importance of following procedures carefully. A laminated checklist of procedures was attached to the key that is used to get into the morgue.
``It was stressed how important it is to check and recheck everything,' Beck said.
Thomas Massaro, the chief of staff for the medical center, Friday said that the hospital is ``extraordinarily sorry' about the switch involving the Fritz baby and said that everyone involved at the hospital feels devastated by the incident.
``Here was a family that was going through a very difficult time,' Massaro said. ``By an error and individual not following a procedure, we added to that grief. We compounded it.'
Massaro said he can understand why Rhonda Fritz draws parallels between her daughter's case and that of the babies switched three years ago. But he said he believes the two incidents are fundamentally different.
``This one, we see a clear cause and effect, an error we made,' Massaro said. ``We are able to say there are logical things we can do to prevent it. The other incident, we still don't have that logical step-wise understanding of what could have occurred.'