A 36 year old farmer named Sanju Bhagat from Nagpur had always been conscious of his swollen stomach. He was teased by others for his pregnant-like belly. One day, suddenly, Bhagat felt excruciating pain in his stomach and when unable to breathe, he was rushed to the hospital. Initially, the doctors at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai suspected a giant tumor pressing against his diaphragm. They began operating on him only to find a strange mass with traces of bones, limbs, fingernails, genitalia, jaws and even hair – turns out, this was the body of Bhagat’s unborn twin brother that had been trapped inside his body way before birth and continued to sustain as a parasite by sucking nutrients from Bhagat’s blood supply.
This weird medical abnormality is known as fetus in fetu and as of today less than 90 such cases have been traced in the medical literature worldwide.
Meckel, a German anatomist, had originally described ‘fetus in fetu’ around late 18th century. Rarely enough, in case of twin pregnancy, one fetus may cover the other fetus completely like a sheath. The engulfed fetus (parasite) continues to grow inside the dominant fetus (host). This scenario results in a lot of strain on the placenta and this is the reason why in most cases of fetus in fetu, both fetus die before birth.
Another case of fetus in fetu was found in Pakistan in 2006, where two partially developed fetuses were removed from the body of two months old Nazia. This was a case of triplets where two of fetuses were growing inside the third one. Another example, John Hare, born in 1807. Shortly after birth, his abdomen began to grow and he fell terribly ill with symptoms of vomiting and running stools. Unfortunately, John died within eight months. Post his death, shockingly enough his autopsy showed a twin inside him.
Bhagat’s case is especially unusual because despite being the host twin, he was delivered successfully and survived with an enveloped twin living inside him as a parasite for nearly 36 years. After the doctors at Tata Memorial Hospital removed the parasitic fetus from Bhagat’s stomach, all his previous symptoms like, pain and breathlessness, vanished. He calls it a medical miracle and is now living a healthy life in Nagpur.
Fetus in fetu is known to be twice as more predominant in males as compared to females. Most patients are found to have an abdominal mass as soon as the first few months of their life.
There are very few cases in which a fetus in fetus is found other locations other than the abdomen such as cranial cavity and scrotum. Imaging techniques such as radiography and CT scan are done to diagnose and confirm this unusual condition.
Parents should be aware that though this is a horrifying condition, advanced medical technology now allows us to remove the abnormal mass allowing the infant to lead a perfectly normal lives.
image courtesy – Anjum Naveed / AP https://www.nbcnews.com/id/12056405/ns/health/t/surgeons-remove-two-fetuses-infant/