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Report: UVa. Gave Wrong Remains

September 5, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The hospital where two babies were sent home with the wrong parents more than three years ago gave a grieving mother the wrong remains when her child died in March, The Washington Post reported today.

The mistake was discovered before the mother left the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., but only after the mother asked for a baby blanket that was not with the coffin she had been given.

Mistie Fritz, 17, told the newspaper her child was born a month premature with severe birth defects on Feb. 6 at a Roanoke hospital. The baby girl was moved to the university hospital, where she died six weeks later.

When Ms. Fritz and her boyfriend went to the hospital to claim the body, she was given a plastic coffin containing the body of another infant. The mixup was not discovered until Ms. Fritz asked for the blanket, which hospital employees found in the morgue next to the body of her daughter, Jasmaine.

``By the time they realized what was going on, they had found Jasmaine,″ Rhonda Fritz, Mistie’s mother, told the newspaper. ``It wasn’t a very pleasant thing. ... Thank goodness they had not left the parking lot.″

Attempts to reach Rhonda Fritz late Friday night were unsuccessful. Her telephone had been temporarily disconnected. Directory assistance had no listing for Mistie Fritz.

Hospital officials Friday confirmed the account of the incident and blamed the switch on an employee’s failure to check the cardboard tag affixed to each body bag.

``Sickening as it is to say, yes it did happen,″ hospital spokeswoman Marguerite Beck said. ``The person that released the remains just didn’t check the tag on the body bag.″

Ms. Beck said the unidentified employee was not fired, and there was no indication in medical records that the family of the second baby ever learned of the incident.

Thomas Massaro, the hospital’s chief of staff, said the hospital was extraordinarily sorry about the mistake, but said the incident was fundamentally different from the earlier case of switched babies.

That switch was discovered in July when DNA testing showed that Paula Johnson and her former boyfriend, Carlton Conley, could not be the biological parents of the daughter, Callie, whom they had been raising for three years.

Subsequent DNA tests showed Callie was the biological daughter of Kevin Chittum and Whitney Rogers, and that Ms. Johnson’s daughter, Rebecca, was being raised by Chittum and Ms. Rogers. Chittum and Ms. Rogers died in a July 4 car crash, and the child is being raised by her grandparents.

Hospital officials have said that because of security procedures in place, they doubted the switch of the girls was accidental. Police and the state Department of Health are investigating that matter.

Massaro said the switch of bodies was the hospital’s fault.

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