New York woman, 50, dies from severe malnutrition after unborn fetus compressed intestines
A mother died of severe malnutrition after carrying an unborn fetus in her body for about nine years.
The woman, originally from Congo, visited doctors in New York complaining of stomach cramps, indigestion and a gurgling sound after eating.
Scans revealed the 50-year-old had a ‘stone baby’ – a calcified fetus – compressing 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 developing outside the womb dies during pregnancy and is not released from the body.
The patient refused treatment, saying she believed her health condition was related to a “spell” cast on her by someone in Africa.
The woman, who has not been named, had carried the fetus for nine years. After being resettled to the US, the mother was offered surgery but declined. She eventually died of malnutrition caused by the fetus blocking her small intestine
Above is a scan of the calcified fetus in the mother. She died 14 months after coming to the US due to severe malnutrition
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 ultimately be caused by tissue degradation leading to cardiac arrest or arrhythmias, an irregular heartbeat. Other causes include an infection caused by a weakened immune system.
In this woman, the ‘stone baby’ kept compressing the intestines. This caused blockages, meaning her body was no longer able to absorb essential nutrients, leading to starvation.
Dr. Waseem Sous, an internal medicine expert at SUNY Upstate Medical University who reported the case, said the patient “rejected intervention for fear of surgery and opted for symptom monitoring.”
“Unfortunately, she passed away due to severe malnutrition in the context of recurrent intestinal obstruction due to the lithopedia and lingering fear of seeking medical attention.”
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.
This is where the dead fetus becomes calcified after being attacked by the immune system. At that point it was too large to be reabsorbed by the body.
The condition has been recorded only 290 times, the first of which dates back to France in 1582.
Some mothers report severe symptoms because of this, but others can live for decades without showing any signs of the condition.
The sad story was revealed in a medical report in the magazine BMC Women’s Health this week.
In her early life, the mother had been uprooted twice, moving from Congo to Burundi and then to Tanzania due to conflicts.
She settled in Tanzania and gave birth to eight children who were born naturally, although three died shortly after giving birth.
During her ninth pregnancy, she visited a doctor’s clinic in a refugee camp after noticing that her baby had stopped moving.
Medics there told her the baby had no heartbeat and advised her to pass it naturally at home and, if this didn’t work, come back in two weeks.
She followed instructions, but when she returned to the clinic she was greeted outside by people accusing her of “malicious work” and “killing the baby.”
This led to the mother rushing home and praying before deciding not to seek medical attention.
She then carried the dead fetus for nine years and had no contact with medics until her health checkup six months before being resettled to the United States.
When the mother arrived in the US, she was taken for CT scans that revealed an obstruction in her small intestine and compression of major veins.
It also showed a mass in the abdomen that was about six by eight inches and contained a skeleton.
Doctors offered her surgery to remove the mass, but she declined – saying the condition was due to a curse someone in Tanzania placed on her.
WHAT IS A ‘STONE BABY’?
Lithopedion, which is Greek for “stone baby,” is so rare that only about 300 cases of it have been documented in history.
Stone babies can occur as a result of an ectopic pregnancy or a pregnancy where the fetus develops outside of the mother’s womb.
When this happens, the deceased fetus cannot leave the body.
Instead of letting the fetus rot in the womb and exposing the mother to possible infection, her body mummifies it.
Calcification is essentially a buildup of salts that the human body uses as a barrier against potential infection.
She added to doctors, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready; I’m not afraid of death.’
Doctors eventually convinced her to take antibiotics to help her upset stomach and pills to lower her blood pressure.
But she continued to refuse surgery. At another appointment, she said, “I just don’t feel like doing it.”
About 14 months after her arrival in the US, she died of malnutrition.
Doctors couldn’t say where the pregnancy took place in the body, but they concluded it was probably outside the uterus.
She suffered from lithopedia, 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 is a threat and launches an attack.
This leads to calcareous deposits on the fetus, which gradually encase it in a calcified shell or turn it to stone.
Fetuses in this condition can be carried in the body for up to 60 years, says medical literature. They may not cause any symptoms and some women may not even realize they are present.
In another example, a woman in Colombia carried a dead fetus for 40 years.
The 82-year-old initially thought she was suffering from the stomach flu. But scans revealed the presence of the calcified fetus.
She then underwent surgery to have the dead fetus removed from her body.
Dr. Kemer Ramirez of Bogota’s Tunjuelito Hospital said at the time: ‘This happens because the fetus is not developing in the womb because it has moved to another place.
“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 calcifies it until it remains encased there.”
A separate case was recorded in 2015 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 taken to the hospital in the city of San Antonio after a fall.
But X-rays revealed that she was also carrying a fetus, which weighed about 2 kg.
Doctors described the fetus as “big and developed and occupying her entire abdominal cavity.”
It was not removed through surgery, as doctors judged it too risky given the woman’s age.