DNA: Identical strangers who are twin sisters

Wilson Lutah, Angeline Mathias, Sharon Mitekwa, Mevies Imbaya, Melon Lutenyo, Rosemary Khaveleli and Richard Olukhakha when Lancet Kenya released DNA results of the twins yesterday. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]
The silence in the room told it all. The tears summed it up. The image of the three girls, Sharon Mitekwa, Melon Lutenyo and Mevies Imbaya sitting solemnly at the Lancet offices in Nairobi was a sharp contradiction to the giggly trio that had sparked media attention two months ago when they embarked on a journey towards finding the truth about their identity.

Yesterday, the truth the three girls had run after for months was presented on a single sheet of paper that would forever alter their collective future and bring to an end a long running chapter in their lives and of their parents, friends and relatives.

Over the long months, strangers in this tale had met and grown close. New bonds had been formed. Old ones maintained. But when the news finally dawned on them, their world couldn’t stop spinning. Not even the tears running down their cheeks provided a solid ground on which their wandering minds would settle.

Switched at birth

It had been confirmed. The two girls who captivated the national psyche over their quest to find out whether they were related, are sisters, most likely switched at birth in a bizarre hospital mix-up close to two decades ago.

The striking resemblance between Sharon and Melon, two girls who were raised by different families, gripped people’s interest, prompting the families to get a DNA test to confirm if they were related.

“Sharon Mitekwa and Melon Lutenyo share identical DNA profiles, with the 23 allelic loci tested showing 100 per cent perfect match, which is consistent with the two being biologically identical twins,” read the DNA results presented to the two families. The results continued to call them “copy and paste. Completely identical.”

As Dr Ahmed Kalebi from Lancet read the results, Mevies gently dabbed tears from her eyes and stared. When he was explaining how the sampling was done, Angelina Omina, the one who had raised Sharon as her daughter, fixed her gaze on the sheet of paper that had the breakdown of the results.

Her biological daughter was Mevies, the one she only met this year after the identical twins found one aother on social media. As Melon and Mevies had lived as fraternal twins for 19 years, the test has now illuminated a reality that they had feared: the hospital had swapped the babies at birth.

“I am having a headache. I have had this persistent pain on the side of my head since we got the results this morning,” Angelina softly said when the doctors finished reading the results. She would sometimes turn towards Mevies, give her a thumbs up and whisper, “Do not worry, we are together in this...”

The air was heavy with anxiety. As cameras clicked, the parents occasionally leaned in to consult with each other, perhaps trying to confront the new arrangement they will have to put up with in the wake of the revelation they have gotten. The room in which they were all crammed suddenly seemed too big.

Legal action

“We plan to take legal action against Kakamega General Hospital. They have caused us a lot of pain,” the parents said.

Dr Kalebi called it a case of negligence, adding that it was not isolated.

“It is a worrying trend. We have had at least four cases where parents were given a baby that was not theirs,” he said, adding that some paternity tests blame the mother for cheating when in the real sense, their babies could have been switched.

Theirs is a gripping tale whose end the families will have to decide. The two girls who resemble each other were being spotted in different events, causing confusion among people who knew them.

When a friend raised it on social media, Sharon and Melon embarked on a quest for the truth. They wanted to know how two strangers who had never met had so much in common. They smiled the same way. Liked the same things. Harboured similar hates.

When it was revealed that all the three girls had been born at the same hospital, their curiosity peaked. They were now skirting around the idea that they could have been switched at birth; an idea that was cemented when the test confirmed that Sharon and Melon are siblings, and Mevies who has all along thought she is Melon’s fraternal twin was not related to her, at least not biologically. But on every other scale they were siblings, for the two shared every single milestone together, memories that not even the DNA test could dispute.

“We will not be separated. Not even when taking pictures. We want to be one unit,” Mevies said, huddling closer while putting on matching pendants that had their names engraved.

Wilson Lutah, who has been raising Sharon, let out occasional sighs as the family talked to the press on how they plan to move forward. 

“We are still taking in the results. We will all go to Kangemi and have a long talk, some celebration and reflection on what next,” he said. As he spoke, the weight of the responsibility of the task awaiting them could be seen settling on not only his shoulders, but on the shoulders and backs of all the adults in the room.

The three girls are expected back in school next week after an eventful mid-term break. They are all Fourth Form candidates. But the family says they may seek an extension of this break.

Still, from their nuances and unspoken words, this is a new dawn for the families. During the meeting, the children still called the respective parents who brought them up as “dad and mum”, solidifying the fact that it will take them long to adjust to the new reality.

The doctor said the DNA tests for the girls were out in May, but the sensitivity around the subject and the fact that they were in school compelled the medics to delay their release until the girls were on a break. Lutah said before the results were revealed, the twins underwent a series of counselling sessions.

At around 4pm, the girls walked out of the room they were in and entered a brand new world. The sun that almost shone on their faces was still the same. The gentle breeze that was there had not even changed direction.

Yet for the two families, something had fundamentally shifted within them. An inconvenient truth will be at the centre of all their conversations. Science had made an attempt at trumping emotion. Fact had tried to push truth aside.

But eventually, love triumphed over all.

“We are now one big family. We will treat the children as siblings. We are not talking about separating them,” said Rosemary, giving the story the kind of fairy tale ending it deserves.

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Sharon MitekwaMelon LutenyoMevies ImbayaLancetKakamega twins