When fertilized eggs implant anywhere other than the uterus, it is considered an ectopic pregnancy. They affect about 1 out of every 50 pregnancies and can potentially be life-threatening. Most fetuses that stem from ectopic pregnancies are not viable, though very rare exceptions exist.
Last week, The Times of India reported that a 60-year-old woman received surgery to remove a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy she had back in 1978. For a period of two months leading up to the surgery, the woman had been complaining of abdominal pain. She had a palpable hard mass, which was initially suspected to be cancerous, so she immediately underwent imaging and testing. The imaging revealed that the mass wasn’t cancer; it was the calcified skeletal remains of a fetus.
”It was after the patient underwent a MRI that the doctors could make out that the mass was in fact a child's skeleton," Murtaza Akhtar, head of surgery, told The Times of India.
The woman got pregnant when she was 24 years old, though the pregnancy was ectopic and she unsurprisingly miscarried. At the time, doctors in the city had told her she needed surgery immediately. She got scared and went home to her village, receiving treatment there.
"We asked for a detailed medical history and the patient's brother told us that in 1978 she was pregnant and had some complications," the head of the surgical team, B. S. Gedam, told The Times.
It is unknown exactly how far along the pregnancy was before it spontaneously aborted. Live Science reports that this could be a case of stone baby, or lithopedion. Depending on the size of the fetus, the mother’s body might not have been able to readily reabsorb the embryonic tissue. Rather than risk infection, a layer of calcium instead begins to form around the fetus, in order to protect the mother. This is rare in more developed areas, as most ectopic fetuses are removed surgically.
This is likely the longest recorded time span a woman has carried around ectopic fetal remains. The doctors found a case from Belgium in which a woman underwent surgery to remove the skeleton after 18 years, making this case of 36 years completely unprecedented.
[Hat tip: Live Science]