A mother has died of severe malnutrition after carrying a fetus for about nine years in her body.
The woman, from Congo, visited doctors in New York complaining of stomach cramps, indigestion and gurgling after eating.
Scans revealed the 50-year-old had a ‘stone baby’ – a calcified fetus – compressed her intestines, which was attributed to a miscarriage nine years earlier.
The rare phenomenon, which has only been recorded less than 300 times, occurs when a fetus that grows outside the womb dies during pregnancy and is not released from the body. It is one of many pregnancy complications that have serious long-term health implications for the mother.
The patient refused treatment, saying she believed her condition was linked to a “spell” someone had cast on her in Africa.
The woman died 14 months after arriving in the United States.
Doctors said she died of severe malnutrition or starvation.
In these cases, death may eventually be caused by tissue breakdown leading to cardiac arrest or cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. Other causes include infection, brought on by a weakened immune system.
For this woman, the “stone baby” continued to compress the intestine. This caused blockages, meaning her body was no longer able to absorb vital nutrients, leading to starvation.
Dr. Waseem Sous, an internal medicine expert at SUNY Upstate Medical University who reported the case, said the patient “refused the procedure out of fear of surgery and opted for symptom monitoring.”
“Unfortunately, she died of severe malnutrition against the background of recurrent bowel obstruction due to lithopedia and a lingering fear of seeking medical attention.”
The fetus of a twin is surgically removed from the SKULL of a one-year-old sister
Doctors said the fetus developed upper limbs, bones and even fingernails, meaning it likely continued to grow for months while inside its brother in the womb .
The fetus – which would have been the woman’s ninth child – stopped developing inside her at 28 weeks.
But instead of miscarrying, she suffered from the condition known as lithopedia.
The condition occurs when the pregnancy forms in the abdomen instead of the uterus.
It is an ectopic pregnancy, a term for all pregnancies where the embryo begins to form in the wrong part of the body.
In case of lithopedion, insufficient blood supply reaches the baby, which leads to pregnancy failure.
The body also cannot expel the fetus, leading to life-threatening complications.
The condition has only been recorded 290 times, with the first dating back to France in 1582.
Some mothers report severe symptoms as a result, but others can live for decades without suffering signs of the disease.
The sad story was revealed in a medical report published this week in the journal BMC Women’s Health.
The mother’s youth had seen her uprooted twice, moving from Congo to Burundi and then to Tanzania because of the conflicts.
In Tanzania, she settled and had eight children, born naturally. Three died shortly after childbirth.
During her ninth pregnancy, she visited a doctor’s clinic in a refugee camp after noticing her baby was not moving.
The doctors there told her the baby had no heartbeat and recommended that she try to pass it naturally at home and if that didn’t work, come back in two weeks.
She followed the instructions, but when she returned to the clinic, she was greeted by people outside accusing her of “evil work” and “killing the baby”.
This led to the mother rushing home and praying, before deciding she would not seek medical help.
She then carried the dead fetus for nine years and had no contact with doctors until her checkup six months before being resettled in the United States.
When the mother arrived in the United States, she was taken for CT scans which revealed obstruction in her small intestine and compression of the major veins.
He also showed a mass inside the abdomen that measured about six by eight inches and contained a skeleton.
Doctors offered her surgery to remove the lump, but she refused, saying the condition was caused by a curse someone had placed on her in Tanzania.
WHAT IS A “STONE BABY”?
Lithopedion, which in Greek means “stone baby,” is so rare that there are only about 300 documented cases in history.
Stone babies can occur as a result of an ectopic pregnancy or a pregnancy where the fetus develops outside the mother’s womb.
When this happens, the deceased fetus has no way to leave the body.
Instead of allowing the fetus to rot inside the abdomen and exposing the mother to potential infection, her body mummifies it.
Calcification is basically a buildup of salts that the human body uses as a barrier against potential infection.
She added to the doctors: “I’ll let you know when I’m ready; I am not afraid of death.
Doctors eventually convinced her to take antibiotics to ease her stomach ailments and pills to lower her blood pressure.
But she continued to refuse surgery. On another date, she said, “I just don’t feel like doing it.”
About 14 months after arriving in the United States, she died of malnutrition.
Doctors couldn’t tell where the pregnancy had taken place in the body, but concluded it was likely outside of the uterus.
She suffered from lithopedion, which can occur when a woman has an ectopic pregnancy or a pregnancy where the fetus develops outside the uterus.
When the baby dies, it is too big for the body to reabsorb.
As a result, the immune system determines that the dead fetus poses a threat and launches an attack.
This leads to the formation of calcium-rich deposits on the fetus, gradually encasing it in a calcified shell or turning it into stone.
Fetuses in this condition can be carried for up to 60 years inside the body, according to medical literature. They may not trigger any symptoms and some women may not even realize they are present.
In another example, a woman in Colombia ended up carrying a dead fetus for 40 years.
The 82-year-old originally thought she had a stomach bug. But scans revealed the presence of the calcified fetus.
She then underwent surgery to remove the dead fetus from her body.
Dr Kemer Ramirez of Tunjuelito Hospital in Bogota said at the time: ‘It happens because the fetus is not developing in the womb because it has moved elsewhere.
“In this case, the abdominal part of the woman is not a viable (place) and this is what happened, a calcified fetus because the body generates defense mechanisms and it is calcified until what remains encapsulated therein.”
A separate case in 2015 was recorded when an elderly woman in Chile was found to have a 50-year-old fetus still inside her.
The woman, who was at least 90, was sent to San Antonio City Hospital after falling.
But X-rays revealed she was also carrying a fetus, which weighed around 4.4 lbs (2 kg).
Doctors described the fetus as “large and developed and occupying its entire abdominal cavity”.
It was not surgically removed, as doctors deemed it too risky given the woman’s age.