When an 84-year-old woman started complaining of abdominal pain, she was taken to the hospital where doctors found a fetus, reportedly 44 years old, still inside of her. Although rare, this condition, called lithopedion, has 300 total documented occurrences throughout the world.
The woman, who is not being named in any published news reports thus far, is a citizen of Brazil. When severe stomach problems became too much to handle, she sought care in a nearby hospital. Doctors at the facility in Tocantins state, located in central Brazil, took x-rays of the ailing woman’s abdomen that showed the unborn baby. When the woman disclosed that she had terminated a pregnancy over 40 years ago, the dots were connected.
The gynecologist who treated this 84-year-old woman estimated that the fetus inside of her was from that pregnancy, which means she has been living with this undeveloped addition for 44 years. The condition’s name is derived from the Greek prefix, “Litho,” which means “stone,” and the Greek suffix, “-pedio,” meaning “child.” When a pregnancy is no longer viable, generally it is because the female’s egg was fertilized by the male’s sperm in a fallopian tube instead of inside the woman’s uterus. In other cases, a fertilized egg latches onto an ovary or to another internal organ outside of the uterus, all referred to as ectopic pregnancies. In first-world countries, an unhealthy pregnancy is usually detected and treated immediately, without further damage to the woman’s body or reproductive organs.
When an undetected ectopic pregnancy cannot provide proper nutrition to the fetus, the life is no longer viable. The embryo dies, stops growing, and the human body is left with few options. Since the egg did not go through the proper channels (i.e. into the uterus and out through the vagina upon completed growth), the system does not have a way to remove the fetus. The existence of the tissue becomes a health risk to the woman, so the body takes action. According to USA Today’s report of the story, in an effort to protect the woman, her body surrounds the deceased fetus in calcium. This is where the term “stone child” gains its applicability.
While very rare, this condition has been reported twice, with two separate women involved, in the last several months. In addition to the Brazilian woman, another female in her 80s, living in Bogotá, Columbia, complained of similar abdominal pain. Doctors initially thought she was suffering from gastroenteritis, but upon further investigation, discovered that she too had a 40-year-old stone baby inside of her.
In the case of the 84-year-old woman in Brazil, the pregnancy that started over 40 years ago, created a fetus that lived an estimated 20 to 28 weeks, her doctors say, before losing access to enough blood to continue living. The fetus has been with her ever since, and at this point in her life, the woman says that she does not want her 44-year-old stone baby to be removed. Possibly because the x-ray pictures show a clear face, set of ribs, bones of the arms and legs, and the entire spine of the fetus that has been with her for over 40 years. According to the Mayo Clinic, at 28 weeks, which marks the beginning of the third trimester, a fetus weighs a little over two pounds and is approximately 10 inches in length.
By K. Corrine Van Vliet