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Woman discovers 40-year-old, mummified fetus in her abdomen

Published December 13, 2013 7:12 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An elderly Columbian woman who went to the doctor for abdominal pain got a horrifyingly bizarre surprise: she had been carrying around a dead, hardened fetus in her body for the last 40 years.

The 82-year-old woman and her doctors made the startling discovery when they X-rayed her, thinking she had gastroenteritis, according to the Telegraph. But instead, she had a "lithopaedian," also known as a stone baby, in her abdomen.

Though it sounds like science fiction or an episode of the "X Files," lithopaedians form when a fetus implants outside the uterus and dies. The Telegraph says that if the fetus is too large to be reabsorbed, it gets mummified by layers of calcium that protect the mother from the decaying tissue. A doctor who talked to NTD Television called the process the body's "defense mechanism."

About 1 in 11,000 pregnancies end this way, the Telegraph says. And The Daily Mail reports that fewer than 300 cases have been recorded in medical literature. One of those cases happened to a 92-year-old Chinese woman, who made headlines in 2009 after carrying her lithopaedian for 60 years.

The few women who do experience this unusual phenomenon also don't often realize it happened until later, when they go to the doctor for unrelated issues.

This whole thing may terrify anyone thinking of having a baby. It definitely scares me, and I'm a guy. But there is some good news: it's apparently not fatal for the mother and, as a photo from the National Museum of Health and Medicine indicates, it doesn't even prevent future pregnancies.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii