What secrets are hiding in our DNA? And what happens when we uncover them by accident?
Six years ago, South African-born Fiona Darroch, 57, made the shocking revelation that her godfather, a gynecologist — the man who had delivered her — was actually her biological father.
The discovery, which was made by total accident, saw Darroch find that the man, Dr Normal Walker, had replaced a medical student’s sperm donation with his own. Not only that, but he had also done the same thing to numerous other families.
Darroch, who appears on SBS Insight on September 22, estimates that she has between 200 to 300 half-siblings around the world.
She made the discovery after seeing an odd review of a book on Amazon, when she was looking for books her godfather, Dr Walker, had written. “Dr Walker was my biological father and sperm donor,” the review read.
“At that stage, I had absolutely no idea of my true story, but I did have a lot of letters that he had written to me when I was a child,” Darroch told SBS Insight’s, Alice Matthews.
After reading the review, she went back to the lady saying that she had photographs, letters and even war medals that belonged to the doctor and the pair exchanged information, leading her to believe that he could be her father too.
“When I fished out his letters, I found a driver’s license of his that he had given me from when he was 16. And I showed it to my husband and said, ‘Who does this look like?’ and he just laughed, because it looks exactly like our youngest daughter.
“I went and had a chat with my mum and I said, ‘Look, somethings going on here and I’d like you to tell me the truth.’ My mum came clean and told me that they had used a sperm donor and that Dr Walker was her gynecologist and he said that they just usually used medical students.
“I was absolutely devastated. It made a lot of sense, but at the same time, I was really angry that I’d been lied to. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, I’d be thinking it was pretty cool one moment and then pretty horrible the next moment. It’s been like that ever since,” she said.
When Darroch asked her mother about it, she never gave her a straight answer and it wasn’t until her own daughter took a 23andMe DNA test, that they discovered the truth.
“When the results came out, she had matched with lots and lots of people and she didn’t have a clue who they were. It just so happened that one of my donor (half) siblings had given his entire family ancestry tests for Christmas that year, and we all matched at the same time.”
Upon confirmation, Darroch was able to find and speak to a clinic staff member who had worked with her father, who ultimately told her that she had not been the first.
“My youngest most recently discovered (half) brother is 14 years younger than me, so he must have done it for at least 15 years perhaps longer. So we’re thinking maybe 200 to 300 [half-siblings],” Fiona said.
The siblings are spread across the world in Australia, the United States, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and South Africa where Fiona was raised.
“It was like losing my own father who raised me all over again. You experience the same grief and loss because you’re no longer connected to the person who you thought you were connected and then find out you’re connected to all these new people. It’s quite tumultuous. It’s a very difficult path.”
When she was just 15 years old, Dr Walker took his own life.
“I think his ethics were really shonky. I understand that at that time they had no idea that DNA was going to be so popular and it would be so easy to track down your family tree,” she said.
Watch SBS Insight on September 22 at 8.30 pm.