Decamot of the month

31 Oct 2020-Human Error: A Modern Scandinavian Saga

Twin brothers uncover the truth of their origins after their parents are involved in a tragic accident.

Professor Stefan Johansen surprised the majority of his family and friends when, in 1987, he announced his engagement to Katie Thomas, a senior nursing sister attached to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, England.

He had been thought of as a dedicated bachelor hitherto, married to his work, although he was a gregarious individual with a wide range of interests outside medicine, from classical music to football. He was an early advocate of the English Premier League when it was launched in 1992.

He was an only child who had followed his parents into medicine, so he had no sibling rivalry to worry about which is why some saw him as a rather single minded but amiable individual.

His father, Percy, was awarded the 1991 Göran Gustafsson Prize for medicine by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which attracted some national publicity in Sweden, but it was his second honour, which arrived in 2011, which caused genuine astonishment. Even his closest associates were unaware that Percy had changed his surname to that of his wife, Kristina Johansen, when they married in 1956.

His birth name was Percy Nillson.

He was one of three teenage boys who, in 1953, famously discovered Lummelunda Cave, a karst cave north of Visby on Gotland which had been formed in the last ice age. Evidence of a vast underground cave structure had been in official records since the middle ages, but no one had ever been able to access the innermost caverns until the three boys managed it in a small inflatable boat.

They found an entrance when a huge section of rock broke away to reveal three inner chambers. The first one was so huge the boys thought it was a subterranean cathedral. The entrance became known as the Pojkarnas gång the Boy’s Passage, and the first chamber “The Mountain King’s Hall”.

It had taken the three school friends two years of diligent searching every Sunday afternoon using matches, candles and a variety of handmade small boats to unlock a hidden treasure trove of limestone stalactites and stalagmites. This natural Grotto is now a major tourist attraction visited by over 100,000 people every year.

On 21 January 2011, "The Three Boys" were honoured in a ceremony at Uppsala University, when they were made honorary members of the Swedish Speleology Society. Sadly, Percy Johansen, alias Nillson, died three years later of pancreatic cancer.

Stefan’s mother had also achieved a measure of national recognition in the field of In vitro fertilization (IVF) working as part of a team of early pioneers of the techniques at Sahlgrenska University Hospital which produced the first IVF baby in Scandinavia in 1982.

She only survived her husband by a few months when she fell victim to a particularly vicious coronavirus masquerading as seasonal influenza.

The unexpected Johansen/Thomas romance was sparked when Stefan invited Katie to be the keynote speaker at the 10th Swedish Global Health Symposium, held annually at the Stockholm City Conference Centre. It was one of the most popular cultural events in the Swedish medical calendar, when medics across many different disciplines had an opportunity of networking in a convivial atmosphere.

As one of the original founders of the Symposium, Professor Johansen was keen to use the 10th anniversary to reinforce its original objectives; to promote the latest treatments for endemic diseases but to stay alert to the increasing importance of aftercare techniques. He was a cancer specialist himself, but he was the first to acknowledge that mental strength following surgery is as important as the surgery itself in aiding recovery.

Katie Thomas, who had a degree in nursing from Southampton University, had specialised from the outset in mental health issues. She had risen rapidly within the NHS to the rank of Director of After Care Nursing for a group of specialist NHS hospitals which included Royal Marsden in Sutton, Surrey, where Professor Johansen was a consultant oncologist, having done his original training at Capio Saint Göran's Hospital in Stockholm and Guys Hospital in London.

Katie Thomas was a gifted communicator with a bubbly personality who had considered a career in the theatre before settling for nursing like her mother before her.

Her dedication to the NHS came through in every lecture she gave, her enthusiasm for the job of caring self-evident. She was able to speak with authority and passion about her subject having had first-hand experience of being a patient. She had been born with defective kidneys but had received a successful transplant when in her early twenties. It was her abiding integrity that had first impressed Professor Johansen.

So it was serendipitous to say the least when these two dedicated career professionals, relaxing over a drink on the last night of the symposium, discovered to their total surprise, that they were both Arsenal FC supporters!

This broke the ice nicely and gave each the opportunity to see the other in a completely different light. It wasn’t long after Katie’s triumphant symposium performance that Professor Stefan Johansen shocked his colleagues with his good news.

Marriage was not something Katie Thomas had put at the top of her wish list although she did harbour a secret desire to have a family one day. She knew that the transplant was bound to add a degree of risk, but she would be happy to accept the risk if My Right should ever turn up. And now he had!

Five years after they married, there was much rejoicing in both families at the arrival of twin boys. Professor Johansen was now 35 and his wife 38 years of age.

Although Donald and Stewart Johansen were twins, most people, when they met them for the first time, could hardly believe it was possible. They were quite different characters, not only in looks but also in temperament. Donald Johansen was self-effacing, bordering on the dour, compared with Stewart who was more of an extravert without being a classic rake. Both liked sport but neither was good enough to think about making a career out of it.

They were now approaching their 30thbirthday.

Their parents were totally supportive having helped them both financially to purchase an apartment each in a modern block on the outskirts of Sutton in Surrey. In fact, their early years were classic middle class idylls organised by doting parents with trips to London and Stockholm museums, holidays to various Mediterranean locations, trips to Disney World and even the grotto at Painshill Park near Cobham, which frightened the life out of young Donald but proved an irresistible magnet for Stewart.

Donald Johansen had become a successful accountant specialising in project management for Sir Robert McAlpine, whereas Stewart was a rising star barrister attached to a small but increasingly influential chamber in Lincolns Inn Fields. It was his ambition to take silk one day.

If they had one passion they shared, it was Arsenal FC, which they had inherited from both their parents. Katie had been influenced by her own father whereas Stefan, who, despite having been born and brought up in Sweden, was a lifelong Gunners fan.

In all other respects, the twins were as different as chalk and cheese. Neither had yet married, much to the chagrin of their mother who had been a late starter to motherhood herself but was keen to hear the pitter-patter of little feet again.

Temperamentally, Donald was more like his father who was a calm methodical individual exuding the gravitas you would expect of an NHS consultant, whereas Stewart Johansen favoured his mother in looks as well as temperament.

Friends often described Stewart and his mother as slightly eccentric individuals, prone to making spur of the moment decisions. Some privately thought of them as show-offs but this was usually put down to envy; both were generous to a fault with their time and attention for all comers.

Little did either of these two siblings know how their differing emotional make ups would be put to the severest of tests when Stefan and Katie Johansen announced over Sunday lunch one day that they had decided to embark on a parachute jump for charity.

“Don’t you think it is a bit risky at your age Dad?” said Donald barely stopping for breath.

“At my age son?” Stefan replied in a faintly mocking tone “At my age! What kind of compliment is that for your aged P?”

“You know what I mean, Dad” protested Donald, “A lot of people rely on you and Mum and neither of you is getting any younger, not that late sixties is ancient of course and you do look pretty fit, but there must be other ways of raising cash for the charity without risking life and limb”

“You know what your mother’s like Donald!” he replied, “Once an idea has lodged in her head, wild horses couldn’t winch it away!”

“Somebody using my name in vain?” laughed Katie Johansen coming into the dining room with coffees all round.

“Clear a space for this tray, Stewart” she asked with a chuckle

Stewart Johansen did as he was bid but took up the narrative on behalf of his brother.

“Donald was only expressing filial affection for his aged P’s, Mum. We both hope you and Dad know what you are letting yourself in for.”

“Ah!” said Stefan jumping in “I think I can help there. Ever since your Mum mentioned the idea I have been researching the subject. There are basically two ways a novice can start – tandem jumps when an instructor jumps with you using a modern extra-large square parachute, or static line jumps when you are on your own, but the parachute is opened for you seconds after leaving the aircraft”

“Presumably, the static line jumps are more dangerous than tandems” suggested Donald, glancing at his mother mid-sentence “Because the novice is left to navigate herself to the ground, without immediate on-hand assistance”

“That’s absolutely correct in every particular” replied Stefan “But there is quite a bit of training involved in static line jumping which helps to ameliorate the risks, as you might imagine. But, there is no getting away from it, neither method is risk free”

“What do the stats on this look like?” asked Stewart, who was keen to encourage his parents but didn’t want to fall out with his brother who was genuinely concerned that they shouldn’t be taking unnecessary risks at their time of life when full time retirement was just around the corner.

“I can quote those to you” responded Katie, with a gleam in her eye “For tandem jumps, injuries occur in about 1 in 1100 jumps but for static line jumps, this goes up to 4 in 1000 jumps for men and 7 in 1000 jumps for women.”

“What kind of injuries are we talking of?” said Donald, concern etched into his voice.

“Injury can mean anything from a minor cut, bruise, or scratch through fractures and sprains to multiple fractures and internal injuries” said Stefan without trying to hide the facts.

“And what about fatalities?” asked Stewart, hoping for some more attractive odds to lift the doom and gloom engulfing his brother.

“Ah!” replied Katie Johansen brightly “The good news is fatalities are only 1 per 31000 jumps!”

Stewart smiled to himself as he could see his mother had already decided which option she favoured. A static line jump would give her control of her own destiny. The satisfaction to be derived from landing safely was well worth the risks involved; but he kept the thought to himself.

Donald simply picked up his white table napkin and waived it as a signal of surrender. He could see that further resistance on his part, however heartfelt, was futile. It was a defeat he regretted but had got used to over the years. His mother usually won; such was the force of her personality.

On this occasion, their father concluded the Sunday lunchtime chat with his usual little speech, having first thrown a pinch of table salt over his left shoulder for luck.

“So, my children, that was decided upon! We start our six week training course on Monday evening at Maidstone Airport. Cheers!”

They each raised a glass of Pinot Grigio with four broad smiles which camouflaged a variety of decidedly mixed enthusiasms around the Sunday Luncheon table.

The limited edition twin engined Dornier G92 took off from Maidstone Airport in almost perfect flying conditions, with 12 novice jumpers on board on a bright sunny afternoon. The G92 was specially adapted for sky diving in the 1990’s, having first been manufactured by Dornier Flugzeugbau in 1959. This was its fourth and final run of the day.

Katie and Stefan Johansen were seated next to each other ready to move round in sequence once the aircraft reached 15000 ft, a journey of about 11 minutes. Once in front of the side sliding jump door they would await the instructor’s signal to go then launch themselves out; a routine drummed into them during their six weeks of training. The Johansens were scheduled to be jumps 10 and 11, meaning Stefan would be the last out of the aircraft.

The key sequences once outside was to count up to ten to be clear of the aircraft, then look up to see if the chute had opened. If it had, one could simply enjoy the drift down by using the guide ropes left and right to manoeuvre the chute left or right or pull both together to slow and soften the landing when one judged you were about six metres from the ground.

Tumble falling was built in to the training routines to reduce the risk of sprains or broken ankles but experienced jumpers perfected the art of landing. They looked as if they were alighting from a London Omnibus whilst simultaneously taking off their harnesses and gathering up the chute in one smooth movement. Katie Johansen was secretly aiming to do just that but kept the thought to herself as she wanted to surprise her twin sons who were waiting below.

If the chute did not open automatically, then the parachutist was trained to activate an emergency chute by pulling a rip cord located around the waist and then continue to enjoy the glided decent. Occasionally, nervous novice jumpers activated the emergency chute too quickly; hence the need to count up to ten before looking up. The main chute was designed to fly with the emergency chute, but the experience was not to be recommended.

Walking out to the aircraft in a crocodile line proved to be the first truly unnerving experience of the day as it slowly dawned on each individual that they were about to put the last six weeks training to the test. This sudden reality check caught them all by surprise. Most covered their fears by remaining silent but two of their number adopted a bogus bonhomie by telling jokes as a way of coping.

“And don’t forget” said joker #1 to joker #2 “If all else fails, remember to cross your left leg over your right”

“Why would I want to do that?” replied joker #2.

“Because it’s easier to pull you out with a left hand thread!”

Nine prospective novice jumpers were not best pleased to hear raucous laughter from their two comrades even though it was soon drowned out by the sound of the propeller blades rotating. The instructor had heard it all before. He quietly put his finger to his lips to indicate silence might be a preferable option as he helped them all into the aircraft one by one to take up their allocated positions.

After one circuit of the drop zone the pilot cut the engine and jumps 1 and 2 were dispatched without incident to the relief of all. This procedure was repeated several times until it was Kate’s turn. She smiled at her husband as she launched herself into the space in front of her. She counted up to ten before glancing up, but she already knew her chute had successfully opened, which calmed her own nerves, leaving her to concentrate on controlling her descent as planned.

Stewart and Donald watched all this through their binoculars and roared their approval as they saw their mother step off the metaphorical bus, loosened her harness and finish with a cheeky little curtsey cum bow.

All eyes were now looking out for Stefan who was five or six minutes behind. His chute had opened but he was not attempting to control his flight.

“Something’s not right” shouted Donald “Dad’s just hanging there, not moving at all”

Stewart focused his binoculars on his Dad and shouted to both his mother and his brother.

“He looks unconscious to me – quick - we must get to him as soon as he reaches the ground!”

The wind took Stefan 200 yards to the west of the expected landing site where he ended in a crumpled heap albeit in long grass. A land rover sped towards the spot; the instructor having radioed the base from the aircraft. Donald, Stewart and Katie Johansen all arrived breathless at the same time as two paramedics jumped out of their land rover, one carrying a defibrillator.

Katie was now in full NHS emergency mode and supervised the application of all available resources, including CPR as she recognised her husband must have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and that the defibrillator would be ineffective if her husband’s heart had flatlined.

A fully equipped ambulance from Maidstone Hospital arrived within ten minutes to confirm Kate’s analysis as well as her worst fears. Stefan was declared dead on arrival in Maidstone, much to the distress of his wife of 35 years, who was beyond condolence, even from her twin sons.

Stewart and Donald hugged their Mum without saying anything, tears in all their eyes. In their hearts they knew that they could not have done more to save their father, but it was a moment which would be etched on their consciences for ever.

Katie blamed herself for forcing him to do it. Stewart blamed himself for encouraging them and Donald was utterly distraught. He kept wishing he had done more to persuade them against such a foolhardy enterprise before waving his white flag.

It was little consolation to learn later that Stefan had almost certainly not suffered as death had been almost instantaneous. His hitherto undetected hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) could have precipitated the sudden cardiac arrest at any time. It often accounted for death among much younger men, especially athletes.

The funeral, which took place nearly three weeks later, was attended by 250 people which surprised Donald Johansen although Stewart half expected the international turnout as he knew how well regarded his parents were in the wider health communities in London and Stockholm. His father had been a leading consultant clinical oncologist whilst his mother was a high profile advocate of post-operative rehab techniques. Both were prime examples of what the modern NHS was all about.

The inevitable publicity Stefan’s tragic death attracted added to the celebrity status of the occasion, much to Donald Johansen’s embarrassment who would have preferred a quiet family affair. Stewart kept his counsel but rose to the challenge of supporting his mother, becoming, by default, the public face of the family in mourning.

He delivered an eloquent eulogy to his father’s life and work at the packed crematorium chapel, which moved many in the congregation to tears, including his own twin brother. The floral tributes which were laid out in the Garden of Rest made an impressive display. It included one from Stockholm IVF Fertility Clinic.

Four weeks later, arriving for their regular Sunday lunch get together, Donald and Stewart were surprised to find their Mum up in the loft with sun streaming through the skylight. She sat cross legged surrounded by boxes crammed with old fashioned photograph albums and other family memorabilia. She had gone up to find a particular file of papers but had been side tracked looking at her twins growing up over the years. Hearing them downstairs, she shouted instructions to pour themselves their usual preprandial drinks.

“I will be down in a moment or two” she said, finally clutching the file which she had been looking for all along.

She climbed down the folding loft ladder and swung it back into position remembering how it was only a year ago that Donald had helped his Dad install it. She smiled when recalling the conversation which ensued after the job had been completed.

Donald: “One Dollie ClickFix Mini Timber Folding Ladder installed and ready for inspection!”

Stefan: “Well that’s a job I never thought I would ever see a son of mine doing! Well done Donald!”

Donald: “It’s a pleasure Dad. I reckon we have saved about 40% by getting it wholesale and installing it ourselves!”

Katie: “Brilliant lads, well done! Time for preprandial drinks all round”

Stewart: “Now that’s something I can do for sure, doubles all round everybody?”

Donald: “Trust you to spend the savings already!” he had said laughing.

Now, over lunch, Donald and Stewart listened to their mother reminiscing. The mood was upbeat for the first time since the funeral which pleased them both.

“Do you remember that time Dad and I took you to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? I think it was for your 17th birthday was it not?”

Donald and Stewart both nodded their heads and smiled at each other because they had both found it a bit tame at the time but going to the cinema with their parents was extremely rare. They were usually too busy with successful careers.

“I don’t think it was one of our best ideas” said Katie laughing “Mind you, it was the first time I had seen a movie since the Towering Inferno! Which was long before you two were born”

Donald Johansen put his hand on his Mother’s arm and said he had always appreciated everything that she and Dad had done for them. They could not have been better parents.

“You mustn’t upset yourself looking at old family albums” added Stewart. “I’m with Donald. You and Dad were the best parents anybody could have wished for!”

There was a period of silence as all three kept their thoughts to themselves until Katie Johansen held up the file she had retrieved from the loft.

“I’m sorry lads but I was up in the loft looking for this” she said waving it in the air “Then I got diverted into a nostalgia trip down memory lane. Old fashioned family albums have a unique way of doing that. Somehow J-pegs stored on laptops don’t have the same appeal.”

“So what is that? asked Donald, his curiosity aroused.

“This is going to be difficult for me” began Katie slowly. “So, bear with me if you will whilst I attempt to explain everything to you. It is something your Dad and I had planned to do together one day but sadly he can’t be here to help me”

Donald and Stewart listened intently as their mother began a painful explanation of what the folder actually contained.

“Are you familiar with the phenomenon known in gynaecological circles as heteropaternal superfecundation?” she asked.

The twins shook their heads although Stewart had an inkling from his legal training but said nothing.

“It occurs when two of a woman’s eggs are fertilized by sperm from two different men in the same menstrual cycle so that she can give birth to twins with two different fathers …… It happened to me …….. by accident I hasten to add” she said, “this file will explain how that accident happened and how we dealt with it.”

The twins were dumbstruck, but Donald was the first to speak.

“So, Mum, if I have understood you correctly, you are suggesting that Stewart and I may have different fathers but that Stefan, was definitely one of them?”

“Yes that’s right” continued Katie, trying all the while to keep a lid on her emotions which she was finding increasingly difficult. “You can read this file whenever you want but I have never ever wanted to know which of you is Stefan’s because we were overjoyed when we heard that I was pregnant at last and thrilled to bits when we discovered I was expecting twins ….. I was already six months into the pregnancy when we were alerted to the administrative error which the clinic admitted to as soon as it was discovered”

“You poor thing” said Stewart, placing his hand on his mother’s arm. “However did you and Dad cope with the waiting for heaven’s sake?”

“Oddly enough” continued Kate “We felt as if we were living in a fantasy world. We had tried for years for a baby without success when Stefan suggested we sought help from a fertility clinic in Stockholm. His mother had worked with Professors Lars Nilsson and Mats Brännström who had conducted studies on ovarian physiology. They were the Swedish pioneers of IVF techniques. In those days, the NHS was not an option, so we embarked on six months of treatment with Stockholm IVF, a specialist clinic. As the file will explain, one batch of sperm was mis-labelled through human error. It really was as simple as that”

“Does the file say which of us is Stefan’s?” asked Stewart cautiously.

“No it doesn’t but you can find out easily enough these days by taking a DNA test should either of you want to find out for certain” she suggested as calmly as she could manage.

“Did Dad ever know?” asked Donald

“I believe Stefan did find out, but I have never wanted to know. When you arrived you were both so ...…? so ……. beautiful. We loved you both equally from the day you were born. We even got to joking about the cock up Stockholm IVF had made …..

“Mother!” said Donald with mock indignation but he and Stewart both felt the nervous tension instantly dissipate, making the rest of the explanation much easier for their mother.

“We had planned to tell you all this on your 21st birthday, then your 25th birthday” continued Katie, gathering herself for one final effort to finish the story, “but something always got in the way. Last month we finally made a firm resolution to do it on your 30th birthday come what may.”

“Look, Mum” said Stewart calmly” I can’t speak for my lovely twin brother of course, but it makes no difference to me who my real father is should it not be Stefan. You and Dad have been the best parents anybody could have had … BAR NONE!!”

Donald was nodding his head vigorously in agreement. He was convinced he knew the answer anyway but did not say anything. Kate finally finished the sorry saga by saying

“We knew that International Human Rights legislation bestows on an individual the right to know the identity of his or her biological parents where possible. Stefan and I thought it was our duty to let you know the facts one day … well, as soon as practical”

Stewart responded quickly by saying it might be a general Human right according to international law, but it didn’t make it obligatory for individuals to pursue those rights if they chose not to. He wasn’t planning to exercise his right as it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the here and now.

“At the risk of repetition” he insisted “I … we … couldn’t have enjoyed a more privileged upbringing than you and Dad gave us”

Donald was quick to confirm “It is just typical of you and Dad, yet another example of your caring natures” he added “Even thinking about our human rights! We owe you and Dad everything for your selfless love over the years.”

Katie was overcome with joy as they all embarked on an instant tearful group hug before topping up their Pino Grigios for the traditional family speech, with Stewart adopting an affectionate imitation of their Dad …

“So that was decided upon! The toast is DAD!”

Later in the day, Donald and Stewart looked through the file which mainly consisted of letters to and from Lars Nilsson at Stockholm IVF and Stefan Johansen in which Stockholm IVF accepted full responsibility for the error that had occurred. They offered compensation for the distress which they knew they had caused Stefan and his wife. It was immediately agreed that Stockholm IVF would waive all their fees for the treatment received and look again at some further form of financial compensation once the births had taken place.

It was very clear from the correspondence that Stefan’s main concern throughout was the health of his wife and the possible mental trauma she might suffer should she have a miscarriage.

In the euphoria which followed the twins birth, both sides expressed their great relief that this unfortunate incident had been negotiated without rancour and with zero publicity.

Stockholm IVF agreed to set up a monthly payment to the Johansens to help with the education of their two boys which they agreed to pay until they reached the age of 21. The amount was fixed initially at 17,000 Swedish Krona per month with an annual increase linked to inflation.

Donald and Stewart’s love and admiration for their parents was only enhanced by reading the file as they could see that their own expensive educations had been heavily subsidized by Stockholm IVF as a direct consequence of their Dad’s calm attitude to a very difficult emotional situation.

Neither of them had the slightest inclination to sort out which one of them was Stefan’s biological son until Katie received a letter from a Swedish Charity called DE TRE POJKARNA FUNDEMENT (The Three Boys Foundation) six weeks after Stefan Johansen’s death.

“What do you make of this?” said Katie Johansen, handing copies of the two page letter to the twins. “I have made a copy for each of you. Whilst I’m preparing lunch, could you both have a read and we can perhaps have a chat over coffee? I could have done without it frankly, but I think I owe it to your Dad to take it seriously”

Donald and Stewart exchanged puzzled glances but settled down to read their copies having poured themselves their usual pre-prandial drinks.

Dear Mrs Johansen,

Firstly, may I offer belated but heartfelt condolences on your recent sad loss?

The obituary in the Times Newspaper reflected the high esteem in which your late husband was held by the medical professions in Sweden and the UK. It was well deserved recognition for a life well lived but cut short prematurely.

Here at the Three Boys Foundation we held him in equally high regard. He was one of our most distinguished supporters over the years although very few people would have realised his connection to this charity. It was his father who was one of the original “Three Boys” when he was known as Percy Nilsson. Your late husband explained that his father had changed his name to Johansen when he married his mother in 1956.

As you may know, this charitable foundation was established in the year 2000 by Örjan Håkansson, another of the original “Three Boys” who discovered the Lummelunda Cave. Our founder’s objective was twofold:

1 To celebrate the trios original contribution to speleology

2 To promote teenage enterprise worldwide

Örjan Håkansson built a very successful electronics business here in Sweden after graduating in from Uppsala University. He was very keen to underwrite the “Three Boys” legacy as he never forgot the encouragement he derived from heir epic discovery. As he once told the press here “it’s all about encouraging risk taking as way of life”.

Our motto in Latin is “sine periculo sterilis” which is loosely translated as “life without risk is sterile” which brings me to the reason for writing to you at this sad time.

We are building a new Visitor Reception Centre in Gotland near the Lummelunda Cave which will be ready by 2023 which will be the 70th anniversary of the original three boys’ discovery.

Our secretary had recently been in touch with your late husband as the idea is to have a grand opening at which all direct descendants of the original three boys would take part in a photo opportunity which we judged would publicise the Lummelunda Cave beyond the Swedish locality.

Professor Johansen had indicated in correspondence that he would be pleased and proud to take part to honour his own father’s memory but that he was the last in the family line. However, I noticed in the Times obituary that mention was made of your twin sons so I thought I would write and invite them to participate in his place.

Please forgive me if I have misunderstood the situation in any way as the last thing we would wish to do at this sad time is to cause you any extra distress. I am the grandson of Lars Olsson, the third member of the “three Boys”

Yours sincerely

Claes Olsson, President
The Three Boys Foundation By the time they were all seated around the Sunday Luncheon table, Donald and Stewart had googled Örjan Håkansson, the Three Boys Foundation and Lummelunda Cave. They were satisfied that the letter was genuine, but it did raise all sorts of questions which needed to be carefully managed as both twins were acutely aware of the fragility of their mother’s mental and emotional state.

“So, what do you think?” asked Katie at the coffee stage.

“I’m not sure I agree with their Latin motto” said Donald, in an attempt to kick start a sensible discussion.” The challenge is putting words into some kind of modern context, I suppose”

“Context is everything” agreed Stewart. “If Dad actually said he was ‘the last of the line’ he might have been referring to his own father, after all he possibly changed his name to escape the image of being thought of as an adventurer or an inveterate risk taker. He could even have been referring to himself in a similar context.”

“Look! My lovely sons! Stop beating about the bush!” interrupted Katie.” We all know that your Dad may have known more about your parentage than he was prepared to let on to, for reasons of his own, including, may I say, to reassure you, out of love for all of us but especially me!”

Donald and Stewart looked at each other and laughed. Once again their mother had come up trumps although her next suggestion took them both by surprise.

“This issue is going to be with us one way or another for as long as I am alive. Why don’t you both take DNA tests and speak to Stockholm IVF. Once we have established the true facts once and for all, then we can decide what would be the best response to this letter”

Donald was delighted with his mother’s suggestion as it would finally confirm what he really thought; that Stefan Johansen was his father.

Stewart was less than enthusiastic; partly because he didn’t care one way or the other and partly because he thought the whole exercise might rebound on his mother.

Donald and Stewart Johansen sat opposite Professor Mats Brännström, MD, PhD who was the CEO of the Stockholm IVF clinic but who had readily agreed to the meeting when Stewart had telephoned him to follow up his initial email. On his desk in front of him was a file which had been retrieved from the archives in advance of their visit.

Using a Home Paternity Test kit, Donald and Stewart had been able to confirm within a week, to an accuracy of 99.99%, that they did indeed have different fathers but which of them was Stefan’s was more difficult to determine without causing their mother additional stress; so they had decided to visit the Stockholm IVF clinic in the hope that they could help solve the conundrum from their medical records.

“It is very good of you to see us at such short notice Professor Brännström” said Stewart after the formal introductory handshakes.” You must be a very busy man”

“Not at all!” replied the Professor, “It’s the very least we can do in the circumstances……and please do call me Mats. Although I never met him personally, your late father was well known to me by reputation naturally. He was a true pioneer in his field of cancer research. I also discovered quite recently that his mother actually worked here as part of a specialist team which produced the very first test tube baby in Scandinavia but that was long before my time of course.”

“I am sorry if this is dragging up issues which were honourably dealt with thirty years ago” said Donald. “But Stewart and I have only recently been made aware of your clinic’s involvement in our birth. Much of what we have learned has come from our dear mother herself but, as Stewart said in his email, we have also read correspondence between our late father and your predecessor which is presumably replicated in your own files”

“Indeed” responded Mats “How is your mother coping with all this? Please do give her my sincerest condolences on your return although our PR department should have sent some flowers”

“They were much appreciated Mats” replied Stewart now anxious to move on.

“So, what can I do to help gentlemen? If the answer isn’t in this file then I’m afraid that there is no longer anybody working here with personal knowledge of the case”

The twins nodded appreciatively

“To put it bluntly, Mats” said Donald “We know that we have different fathers, but we cannot tell which of us is Stefan’s without submitting a DNA sample from our late Dad. We were hoping that you might be able to cast some light on the matter from your medical records”

Professor Mats Brännström was silent for a moment or two as if working out how to best explain what he had discovered for himself from the file.

“The answer to your question is in the file but the reason I hesitate is out of respect for Stefan Johansen who would never have envisaged this situation occurring for reasons which will be clear to you. The truth is that neither of you is his biological son.”

Donald and Stewart Johansen look at each other in astonishment. It was not the answer either of them had anticipated.

“When Professor Johansen first approached us he asked if we could first test him for infertility. From the notes in the file he had clearly consulted his mother. It seems that they didn’t want to put Mrs Johansen through the trauma of IVF if he was infertile. After all, she had undergone a successful kidney transplant but, like a lot of women in similar circumstances, her maternal instinct was so strong that she became more and more determined to have a child even after five years of trying.”

“Let me guess” said Stewart quickly “You discovered that Dad was infertile?”

“That’s right” Mats replied. “Complete male infertility is rare, but it can be caused by hormone disturbances, genetic disorders or a complete blocked sperm duct caused by, for example, cystic fibrosis or previous testicular inflammation.”

“So why did the procedure continue if you knew all along that Dad was incapable of having children?” asked Donald, a note of disappointment creeping in to his voice.

“Professor Johansen instructed us to proceed using an anonymous donor” replied Mats. “We followed all the official guidelines at the time and satisfied ourselves, from a scientific point of view, that the anonymous donor’s sperm was of the highest quality. We did not give Professor Johansen any special favours, these are guidelines that the Swedish Health Authorities lay down for all IVF procedures.”

“So, It must have been very disappointing when your colleagues discovered the error that was made in the labelling?” commented Stewart, cautiously.

“Quite so” replied Mats.” It was not the clinic’s finest hour, but Stefan Johansen was magnanimous in the extreme throughout. He and his wife were overjoyed at the eventual outcome, as you will see from the file, should you wish to read it all for yourselves”

On the flight back home to Gatwick, the twins tried to make sense of everything they had learned but their affection for their Dad increased with every possible scenario. The biggest unknown factor was what did their mother know at the time? Was she even aware that Stefan had been tested as infertile? Did she agree to go ahead with an anonymous donor?

Stewart did his best to summarise the possible explanations in order of probability

1 Stefan never told his wife about his infertility because, out of love for her, he just wanted to help her realise her personal dream of having a family. When the labelling mix-up occurred they both decided that “what will be will be” but it did give Stefan an unexpected opportunity to introduce the idea of the child not actually being his.

2 She knew all along that IVF couldn’t work but was persuaded to go ahead with an anonymous donor as an alternative to adopting children instead.

The twins were now feeling apprehensive about their regular Sunday luncheon with their mother which was scheduled for the very next day, but both had decided, independently of each other, what to do in response to the invitation from Claes Olsson of the Three Boys Foundation.

They had also debated the morality of not telling their mother everything they had discovered but both had agreed with the old maxim “never tell a fib when the truth will do”. They agreed that Stewart would lead the conversation in that direction but, true to form, their mother wrong footed them again with her opening comment

“Did you enjoy your trip boys? More to the point, did you discover that neither of you is Stephan’s child?”

Donald and Stewart looked at each other, clearly blown off the agreed plan. The silence was almost embarrassing.

“The look on your faces says it all” Katie added chirpily “It was something that I suspected many years ago when the clinic first told us about the cock up on the admin front. Stefan, bless him, seemed almost relieved! I couldn’t think why, but a year after you were born the penny suddenly dropped. He was so engaged with both of you it would have been totally counterproductive, forgive the obvious pun, to raise it with him. He was devoted to both of you. It was the reason that I never wanted to know who your fathers were when Stefan was doing such a great job himself!”

They immediately wrote to Claes Olsson of the Three Boys Foundation saying they would be delighted to represent their father at the grand opening of the new reception centre and were rewarded with an almost instant reply by email which concluded with ….

“I am especially delighted that you are both coming as it was Professor Stefan Johansen who originally suggested our Latin motto, back in the year 2000, SINE PERICULO STERILIS.

Decamot inspired by the following items: Parachutist, grotto, director, Stockholm, hospital, table salt, winch, skylight, rake, inferno