A Colombian woman who went to a hospital in Bogota, complaining of stomach pains, got the surprise of her life when doctors saw an X-ray and discovered a 40-year-old calcified fetus -- or lithopaedian -- inside her 82-year-old body, various news media outlets reported this week.
Lithopaedian, also known as stone baby, is a very rare syndrome that happens when the fetus grows outside the uterus and inside the abdomen. Indeed, the phenomenon of a fetus growing inside the abdomen occurs once in every 11,000 pregnancies; lithopaedian occurs in an estimated 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent of these cases. If the fetus becomes so large that it cannot be absorbed back into the body, it mummifies, with a layer of calcium protecting the mother's body from the dead tissue of the baby. Usually the woman has no idea a calcified fetus is inside her.
The Colombian woman will now undergo surgery so that the fetus can be removed.
In another case, in 2009, Huang Yijun, 92, of southern China, delivered a child which she’d been carrying for more than half a century.
At the time, Dr Natalie Burger, an endocrinologist and fertility specialist in Texas, explained that lithopaedions began as ectopic pregnancies -– a condition where the fertilized egg becomes stuck as it travels to the womb and develops outside of the uterus.
She told NBC News: “Usually an ectopic pregnancy will mean a [fallopian] tubal pregnancy, but in a small percentage of cases, the pregnancy can actually occur in the abdominal cavity -- in places like the bowel, the ovary, or even on the aorta.
“These are very rare locations and they can be very dangerous.”
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CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mistakenly reported that lithopaedian occurs once in every 11,000 pregnancies.