A family was floored after a DNA test led them to find out shocking news about their 12-year-old son.
Donna and Vanner Johnson decided to order some DNA kits for themselves in 2019 and their two children, sending them off their 23andMe samples and forgetting about them until the results showed up on their wedding anniversary.
My husband called and said, ‘Hey, I got my results back,'” Donna, 45, tells TODAY Parents. “But he said there was something off.”
Their youngest son’s relatives didn’t seem to match the family, according to Donna. Listed under “mother” was Donna but listed under “father” was the word “unknown.” At first, the couple believed it was just a mistake. But then Donna looked at her results. “I looked at my son’s results and it said that he had a half-brother through me, and it all came crashing down,” Donna explains. “I knew something was wrong.”
After the birth of the couple’s first child, Vanner, 46, underwent three hernia surgeries that inadvertently damaged his vas deferens, making it impossible for the couple to have another child without medical intervention. Donna shared how they always wanted a large family, so they went to the University of Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine to undergo IVF.
Donna recalls being in the clinic, “and they said they’d have a carrier bring Vanner’s sperm to the lab.”
Two embryos were implanted and Donna was pregnant with their second son, Tim. Vanner and Donna then realized something terribly wrong had happened during the IVF process: another man’s sperm was used to fertilize Donna’s egg.
“Because the mistake happened to me, I felt like I needed to talk to him, father to son,” Vanner tells TODAY. “So I took my son on a drive to get ice cream.”
“Then I said that the tests found that when we got pregnant with you, and we went through IVF, something happened in the lab, some kind of mix up, and it turns out that I am not your biological father,” Vanner adds.
The parents decided to leave it up to Tim if they would search for his biological father. And once he decided he did want to know, the family purchased another DNA kit via Ancestry.com and sent off another round of samples. This led them to find a named Devin and Kelly McNeil, who have three children of their own.
“Devin came to me and said, ‘I got this really weird phone call from a guy asking if we did IVF,'” Kelly, 44, tells TODAY. “I told him to call me back, so he’s calling in an hour and wants to FaceTime.” Her husband asked Kelly if she wanted to be on the call. “I said that it sounds weird, but that I would hang around.”
Vanner asked the couple a series of questions — if they went through an IVF cycle in 2007, if their IVF was conducted at the University of Utah.
“And then he explained their story, and how they found Devin and how Vanner believed that Devin was the biological father,” Kelly adds. “At that point, my mind was blown. I was speechless.”
And while the McNeils were uneasy about the situation, Devin agreed to take a DNA test, paid for by the Johnsons.
“It showed Devin’s family members and his line: his grandma, his sister, his nieces and nephews, all showing up in Tim’s line,” Kelly says. “It was hard to argue with those results.”
While the families waited six weeks for the results, they continued to text and FaceTime. Donna recalls zeroing in on Devin’s face during one FaceTime call.
“I kept looking at this man and thinking, ‘I can’t see my son in him.’ I didn’t want to. I couldn’t imagine that my son has his biology. He had a beard and I couldn’t see it,” she recalls. “Then I remember at one point running across a picture of him without a beard, and I saw the dimple on his chin. That’s when I knew — that was my son’s dimple.
Devin’s DNA test confirmed what both families had suspected, that he was, in fact, Tim’s biological father. The McNeils proceeded to tell their three children, at the time 6, 8, and 13, that they had a biological half-brother.
“After we explained how IVF worked, we told them that the doctors had accidentally used dad’s sperm with another woman’s eggs, a baby was made, and that we just found out that they have a half brother,” Kelly adds. “I think their minds were blown.”
“We just decided that we need to make this positive, and make it about what Tim wants, because it’s really his story,” Kelly says. “He’s not our kid; he’s an extension of our family. Vanner is still his dad, and Tim is loved and taken care of and has a good home and great parents. We don’t want to take that away.”
“This was still a horrible mistake and something that shouldn’t have happened,” Kelly adds. “Even one case is too many cases.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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