The Twin Inside Me
It seems like every second chat show features a suspicious man demanding a DNA test to prove he is the father of his lady’s children. It’s not uncommon for a man to discover that his children do not share his genes. But what if, as a mother, you were informed that the children you had carried and given birth to were not, in fact, yours? No, this is not the plot of the latest Alien film; it’s Lydia Fairchild’s life. This is the amazing story of an American woman who found herself risking losing custody of her children after a routine DNA test gave a freakish, one-in-a-billion result.
Lydia had three children with her partner Jamie. Around the birth of the third, the couple separated. Alone, with no means of support, Lydia applied for welfare and was asked to submit DNA samples to prove that she, the children and Jamie were all related.
The results were mind-boggling. They confirmed that Jamie was the father but they stated categorically that Lydia was not the mother. Lydia couldn’t believe her eyes, but two further tests confirmed that Lydia’s DNA was completely unrelated. Unless Lydia could prove she was the mother, she would lose custody of her kids.
Astonishingly, Lydia was taken to court for fraud. The judge accused Lydia of claiming benefit for other people’s children, or being part of a surrogacy scam. The DNA sample was considered to be foolproof, while traditional evidence - such as hospital records of her births - was disregarded. Lydia’s life was falling apart; at four-months pregnant, she couldn’t even afford legal support. But her luck changed when she came across a lawyer with an interest in her circumstances.
Two thousand miles away, Karen Keegan had been through a similar ordeal. Aged 52, Karen needed a kidney transplant so her adult sons were DNA tested as potential donors. To her horror, though, Karen discovered that she shared no genetic material with her sons. Luckily for her, the authorities accepted that she was their mother. Lydia’s lawyer contacted Karen, hoping that she could help Lydia through this horrific experience; the two sides began to investigate this bizarre case.
A series of tests had shown that Karen was a ‘chimera’ - a term derived from the Greek mythological creature that was a mutation of more than one animal. Shortly after conception, the female egg that was to become Karen became fused with another female egg. As a result, the fused egg contained two entirely separate DNA blueprints which were combined in Karen. This means that, biologically, Karen is more than one person.
This situation is not as rare as we might think. In fact, most pregnancies begin as twins, with one embryo absorbing the other. Karen was actually lucky; if the second egg had fused with the first at the same time and been male, Karen would have become a hermaphrodite. If it fused later, when the eggs had started developing, she would have become one half of conjoined twins.
The evidence was put before the judge, who ordered samples to be taken from Lydia during childbirth. Again, these showed that there was no apparent DNA link between her and the newborn, who was obviously hers, thus proving the chimera theory.
This condition is receiving increasingly more publicity - it even recently featured in an episode of CSI. When the obvious culprit of a rape did not match the DNA left in his victim, investigations revealed that his blood contained different DNA to his semen. There was also a real-life case of a cyclist filling his veins with someone else’s blood in order to cheat a pre-competition DNA test, then claiming he had the chimera condition. It's gruesome, but true.
Lydia’s nightmare was almost over, and she and Jamie are now back together. But very little is still known as to why cells fuse to create chimeras in the first place. The condition is often dormant, not affecting people’s external appearance, and only picked up during hospital checks. Who knows how many chimeras are walking amongst us?