Recently, a calcified 40-year-old fetus was unexpectedly found inside an 82-year-old from Colombia.
The elderly lady sought physician assistance for stomach pains that were thought to be symptoms of gastroenteritis. Instead, to everyone's surprise, the X-rays showed a "stone" baby, or 'lithopaedion' within the woman's abdomen.
Lithopaedions are rare, but not unheard of. They occur during pregnancy when the fetus implants outside the uterus (i.e. ectopic pregnancy) then dies but is too big a size to be reabsorbed back into the body. Thus, the body protects the mother infection (due to the decomposing fetus) by depositing calcium on the exterior of the fetus, making it 'mummified' as the fetus within the calcium layers decays.
While rare, it is not unusual for the stone fetus to go undiagnosed, even for decades. The calcified fetus is only discovered when the mother is examined.
Lithopaedions were first documented in 1582, during the autopsy of a 68-year-old, named Madame Chatri, from the French city of Sens. According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, this sixteenth century 'stone baby' was carried within the French mother for 28 years. Moreover, that same sixteenth century lithopaedion had been widely traded as a foremost medical curiosity throughout 1600s Europe before ending up in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even the book detailing the case history of Madame Chatri's autopsy findings became a medical bestseller of the day.
To learn more about the 'stone child' of Sens, the earliest documented lithopaedion, click here.
Current medical literature informs us that less than 50 cases of lithopaedion were discovered before 1880, with the earliest having been that from Sens. The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine goes on to state that "the mean age of the mothers, at the time the lithopaedion is discovered, was 55 years, but several of them were octogenarians, and the oldest to date exactly 100 years old. A good many of them had carried their lithopaedions for quite a long time: the mean duration of lithopaedion tolerated was 22 years, and nine of 128 women had carried them for more than 50 years... An abdominal lithopaedion did not prevent several of the women from subsequently bearing normal children."
Doctors say 'stone babies' can form at any time from 14 weeks' gestation to full-term.
Incidentally, the 82-year-old woman from Bogota will be undergoing surgery to remove her 40-year-old calcified fetus.