SOLVING TWO FAMILY MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

We’ve had two family ‘mysteries’ that involved genetics and inheritance of traits. The first involved my first husband, Larry, and his blood type. He always said that his dog tag from the army (Texas and Vietnam postings in the early 1970s) listed his blood type as O – the universal donor.

Normally blood type is at most a not very interesting fact about a person, but it became an issue when my second child, Sarah, was born. I don’t know why it didn’t come up when my first child was born, but it just didn’t.

The OB-GYN who delivered Sarah came in after her birth to talk to us about our new daughter’s health. As part of her report, she mentioned that Sarah’s blood type was AB positive. I am type A and Larry suddenly realized as type O, you can’t get an AB child. Not from an A parent and an O parent. He started to get upset.

Sarah’s birth announcement

The doctor pulled me aside and furtively asked me if I wanted her to pursue the issue. She was politely asking if the child could have a father other than Larry. I told her emphatically that the child was Larry’s and asked her to please do everything she could to find the obvious error as quickly as possible.

Larry, Sarah and I all had our blood drawn for testing. It was very tense between Larry and me while we were waiting for the results. I knew that Larry was the father but he believed that he couldn’t be, so what should have been a glorious day for us turned out to be strained, at best.

Larry and Sarah when she first came home from the hospital

Thank goodness the test results came back quickly. I was confirmed as type A, Sarah was confirmed as type AB positive and Larry turned out to be AB positive too, just like his daughter. The army had made a serious error. Larry’s blood type was listed as the universal donor type instead of the universal recipient type. So if they had ever asked him to donate blood, he could have killed someone with an incompatible transfusion!

Larry was shocked that the military had made such a serious error but he was greatly relieved. In fact, both of our kids have their father’s blood type. So, marital crisis averted!

Another picture of Larry and a newborn Sarah

The other genetic mystery we had in our family was my son, David’s, left-handedness. David was an eight-week Preemie and was part of a study of Preemie development at New York Hospital. A researcher came to our house once a month during David’s first year of life and gave him a battery of behavioral and motor development tests.

He was about a month behind in most things but he was way ahead on one – favoring one hand over the other. That usually doesn’t happen till the end of the first year, but from the time David could reach for things, he strongly favored his left hand.

My mother, me and David when he was an infant

The developmental testers were surprised and so was the family since being left-handed is genetic and no one in either family was left-handed. We quizzed every family member on both sides but David still remained a mystery. Then one day, when David was about one and a half or two years old, my mother was playing with him and the topic of his left-handedness came up again.

Suddenly a light went off in my mother’s brain. “Oh my God!” she said. “I forgot that I was born left-handed!”

My favorite photo of my mom and David

In 1916, when my mother was born, being left-handed was not considered to be a good thing. It was a ‘problem’ that had to be ‘fixed’ to make the child ‘normal’ and like the majority of the population. When Mom was of school age, she was forced to use her right hand instead of her left.

This was so traumatic for her, as well as being neurologically challenging, that she developed a stutter. A ‘psychologist’ of the day told my grandmother to cure Mom’s stutter by smacking her in the face every time she stuttered. This barbaric tactic eventually worked and Mom grew up to be a right-handed adult with no stutter.

My mom as a two-year-old in 1918

But the experience so scarred her that she buried the memory. Even a year of talking about David’s inexplicable left-handedness didn’t trigger her memory. I don’t know what finally did, but now we know that David inherited something directly from his grandmother.

Another family mystery solved!