A mother died from severe malnutrition after carrying an unborn fetus for around nine years inside her body.
The woman, originally from the 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 — compressed her intestines which was attributed to a miscarriage nine years prior.
The rare phenomenon, which has only been recorded fewer than 300 times, occurs when a fetus that is 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’ that someone cast on her in Africa.
The woman, who has not been named, had carried the fetus for nine years. After she was resettled to the US, the mother was offered surgery but refused. She eventually died from malnutrition caused by the fetus blocking her small intestine
Shown above is a scan of the calcified fetus inside 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 from severe malnutrition, or starvation.
In these cases, death may evenutally be caused by tissue degredation leading to cardiac arrest or cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. Other causes include an infection, brought on by a weakened immune system.
For this woman, the ‘stone baby’ kept compressing the intestines. 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 ‘declined intervention due to fear of surgery and elected for symptom monitoring.’
‘Unfortunately, she passed away due to severe malnutrition in the context of recurrent bowel obstruction due to the lithopedion and continued fear of seeking medical care.’
The fetus — which would have been the woman’s ninth child — stopped developing inside her at 28 weeks.
But instead of miscarrying, she suffered the condition known as lithopedion.
This is where the dead fetus becomes calcified after it is attacked by the immune system. At this point, it was too large to be reabsorbed by the body.
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 any signs of the condition.
The sad tale was revealed in a medical report in the journal BMC Women’s Health this week.
The mother’s early life had seen her uprooted twice, moving from Congo to Burundi and then Tanzania because of conflicts.
In Tanzania, she settled down and had eight children which were delivered naturally, although three died shortly after childbirth.
During her ninth pregnancy, she visited a doctor’s clinic at a refugee camp after noticing that her baby was no longer moving.
Medics there told her the baby had no heartbeat and recommended that she try to pass it naturally at home and, if this did not work, return 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 that she would not seek medical help.
She then carried the dead fetus for nine years and had no contact with medics until her health check six months before being resettled to the United States.
When the mother arrived in the US, she was taken for CT scans which revealed an obstruction in her small intestine and compression of major veins.
It also showed a mass inside the abdomen that was about six by eight inches and contained a skeleton.
Doctors offered her surgery to remove the mass, but she refused — saying the condition was due to a curse someone placed on her in Tanzania.
WHAT IS A ‘STONE BABY’?
Lithopedion, which is Greek for ‘stone baby,’ is so rare that there are only around 300 cases of it documented in history.
Stone babies can occur as the result of an ectopic pregnancy, or a pregnancy where the fetus develops outside of 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 expose the mother to potential infection, her body mummifies it.
Calcification is essentially an accumulation of salts the human body uses as a barrier against potential infection.
She added to doctors: ‘I will let you know when I am ready; I am not scared of death.’
Medics did eventually convince her to take antibiotics to help with her stomach complaints and pills to lower her blood pressure.
But she kept refusing surgery. At another appointment, she said: ‘I just do not have it in my heart to do.’
Some 14 months after her arrival in the US, she died from malnutrition.
Doctors could not say where the pregnancy took place in the body but they concluded that it was likely outside the uterus.
She was suffering from lithopedion, which can occur when a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, or one where the fetus develops outside the womb.
When the baby dies, it is too large for the body to re-absorb.
As a result, the immune system determines that the dead fetus poses a threat and launches an attack.
This leads to calcium-rich deposits being laid down on the fetus, gradually encasing it in a calcified shell or turning it to stone.
Fetuses in this state can be carried for up to 60 years inside bodies, medical literature says. They may trigger no symptoms and some women do not even realize that 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 was suffering from a stomach bug. 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 at Bogota’s Tunjuelito Hospital said at the time: ‘This happens because the fetus does not develop in the uterus 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 is generating defense mechanisms and it is calcified until it stays there encapsulated.’
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 hospital in the city of San Antonio after suffering a fall.
But X-rays revealed that she was also carrying a fetus, which weighed about 4.4lb (2kg).
Doctors described the fetus as ‘large and developed and occupied all of her abdominal cavity’.
It was not removed via surgery, with doctors ruling that this was too risky given the woman’s age.