It had been an extremely hard year for 91-year-old Estela Meléndez. Her husband had passed away and her health was on a quick decline. After suffering from a fall, Estela had to be taken far from her village to the nearest hospital — only to discover something that would rattle her, the doctors and the world. As it turned out, she was pregnant, and there was a lot more to her story than meets the eye.
Meet Estela Meléndez
91-year-old Estela Meléndez and her husband Manuel González were living a life that many would describe as blessed. Living in the tiny Pacific coastal community of La Boca, Chile, several hours outside of the capital Santiago, they shared an inseparable bond that had carried them through an astonishing 74 years of marriage.
While the two weren't exactly living it up in a mansion, the humble life they lived always managed to provide. Manuel's work as a boater and fisherman ensured that the couple would always have food on the table. However, in January of 2015, Estela's life would see some major changes on the horizon, setting off a chain of events that would result in a shocking revelation.
Bidding Her Farewell
2015 would prove to have a very rough start for Estela. Her 74-year-old marriage would at last be broken, as she’d one day wake up to find that Manuel had quietly passed on at the age of 91. Being only a year younger, Estela would struggle with the daily realities of being home alone, managing the house alone and cooking for one.
After having spent three-quarters of a century building a life with her soulmate, the loss must have been incalculable. They had lived through far too many experiences to quantify them all — and that included some memories better left forgotten. Up until this point, no one really knew, but the couple held close one giant regret that they wanted to take to their graves.
Estela's Big Regret
Estela and Manuel always felt remorseful about not being able to have a family. It was something that they had both longed for, but early on, they found out that Estela was unable to conceive and get pregnant. When interviewed and asked to look back at her long life having gone by without a family to raise, Estela simply remarked, “We suffered tremendously for this reason.”
The reason behind Estela not being able to have a baby was a mystery for decades. To make matters worse, a few years before her husband passed, Estela also discovered that she had a long-standing tumor in her uterus. However, soon that the tumor would be the least of her worries.
More Bad News
In the year following Manuel's passing, the widowed Estela would find herself unfortunately facing a slew of medical issues. She would find that her hearing began to go rapidly and her mobility quickly dwindled. On top of this, she developed a severe case of arthritis. And things only continued to get worse after her 91st birthday.
While her body was already slowing down significantly, things would change when Estela would trip and fall while tending to her home. While the fall didn't cause any permanent damage, it was an eye opener for the elderly woman — and she knew that she'd have to make some changes in her life.
A Desperate Trip To The Hospital
It had become obvious to Estela that her body was giving way, as performing basic tasks alone began to require a lot of effort. She contacted her friend and pleaded for a ride to the Claudio Vicuña hospital in San Antonio. It was no simple four blocks away to see her doctor, but would require finding someone who could take her on a journey of 40 miles.
Concerned over the fall, the doctor wanted to put Estela through a full body x-ray. At her age, the doctor knew that she really couldn't afford to take any heavy damage. It was during the x-ray process that they would discover something that would leave them deeply startled.
A Closer Look
To begin with, the doctors that had examined Estela thought that they were merely looking at something they'd already seen: a second tumor. Tumors were nothing new to her, as she'd had a bout with cancer back in the 1980s. However, wanting to be sure of their findings, the doctor decided to perform a second X-ray. That's when they found out that they could have been very wrong about Estela's condition.
After carefully analyzing their find, they came to the conclusion that Estela had never had a tumor in the first place. What she was carrying inside of her was something far more serious than a mere tumor. The doctors had to do a double take or two each time they examined the X-ray. What they were about to reveal felt almost otherworldly!
Everything She Ever Wanted
It turns out that Estela was technically pregnant. She had been carrying the remains of a long-deceased fetus. However, the biggest shock came when they learned how long it had been inside of her.
After studying the fetus, doctors were able to conclude that she had been pregnant with it for roughly 60 years. The news had to have come as devastating to Estela. All her life, she and Manuel wanted nothing more than a child to raise, seemingly deprived of this ability. All the while, her unborn child was unknowingly inside of her for more than half a century.
The reality of her situation shocked Estela, her doctors, and many locals in their corner of Chile. Not many people had ever heard of such a terrifying condition. And yet, as it turns out, Estela's condition wasn't as mysterious as many people might have thought.
Not An Anomaly
Estela's condition is called lithopedion, and it affects a small percentage of women across the world. The names of these fetuses themselves are lithopedions or stone babies. These unique specimens are the result of a fetus that begins to develop outside of a pregnant woman's womb.
These kinds of fetuses are extremely risky for both mother and child, and if not handled quickly, the condition can result in the demise of both. However, if the fetus is small and undeveloped, it can be gradually absorbed into the pregnant mother's body. And yet, this wasn't the case with Estela. What doctor's saw in this elderly woman was something that had scarcely been seen in modern history.
Living With Her Fetus
If the fetus is too developed, it won't be absorbed by the mother. Rather, it calcifies in the uterus. Usually, people with a "stone baby" will just go into surgery and get it removed. Sadly, the doctors determined that this wouldn't be a possible route for 91-year-old Estela. Surgery wasn't something she was likely to survive.
While the news wasn't encouraging, ultimately, Estela said she didn't mind, as it'd remind her of her late husband. While the news of the stone baby was all around another layer of tragedy added onto an already rough time in her life, not everything the doctor told her lingered in a bad light.
A Tidbit Of Positivity
On one hand, Estela and her husband's biggest dream was under their noses all along and they never had the chance to recognize it together. While that alone is very tragic, Estela dethroned a belief that had often made her feel awful throughout the majority of her life.
She lived her whole life feeling like she was a bit less than everyone else. Estela had to see her sisters and friends have children while she remained childless in a time and place where rearing children was the norm. It was an incredible revelation. And she couldn't just come home from the hospital and adjust back into her quiet life.
A Life Before The Cameras
Discovering someone who had been carrying a child for over half a century wasn't something that everyone surrounding Estela were going to graze over and ignore. As news spread to an international level, people around the world were intrigued by this elderly woman and wanted to know more about her story.
Estela soon found herself at the center of a media explosion. , ABC, NBC and CNN all rushed over to Chile to get the elderly woman's story. While most would expect to see the elderly woman burst into tears in the face of such pressure, her response was actually something that caught the watching masses completely off guard.
A Life's Worth of Wisdom
When the world was introduced to Estela Meléndez, they might have assumed that they’d be looking at someone who had been broken by the ravages of time and her odd discovery. After all, nobody can expect anyone who lost their husband of 74 years and discovered a 60-year-old fetus inside of them to be in the best state of mind.
However, Estela sat before the cameras poised and calm. She clutched her cane and looked at the interviewer with very attentive eyes and spoke with elegance. Despite living through a series of tragic events, the woman appeared tough as nails — and it garnered her a very unexpected response.
Responding To The Tragedy
Estela had experienced hardships that most of us will never know. Just hearing about it left people baffled and saddened. A woman named Julie summed up public opinion with her comment, "that's so sad, it might have actually given her husband a little joy had they found out earlier."
However, the young lady's comment didn't end on that sad note. She further stated, "I guess one way of looking at it is they did have a child and she carried it around with her for 60+ years.. And now since they won't remove it she still has a part of him with her. In an unusual sort of way." While many were baffled, others found the story strangely relatable.
Not As Uncommon As We Think
While Estela's definitely isn't a condition that's heard about on a daily basis, one can argue it's way more common than one might assume. A woman named Lauren Pearl wrote in commenting on the story, and she described how her sister had also been pregnant with a stone baby in her — albeit not her own one, according to doctors.
Lauren explained,"This happened to my sister. She had no idea until she was pregnant with my niece. It was her own twin. As crazy as it sounds it isn't super uncommon. Most people just never know. She had complications which revealed it." With that said, many are wondering what is going on with Estela today.
On To The Future
In her 90+ years of life, there is no way that Estela could have imagined that she'd be at the center of a media outburst as she was. Most people get their 15 minutes of fame much earlier on in life, if they get it at all.
Estela Meléndez had her moment in the sun, though it was due to a strange medical condition and came in the wake of tragedy. Now, in the years since her massive exposure in the press, she's managed to steer clear of headlines, retreating back into the quiet routine of daily life in her small Chilean seaside community.
Turns out, this condition is super rare, occurring only 300 times in medical literature. But, it seems like several cases have taken place in close proximity like this next woman.
In 2013, an elderly Colombian woman was rushed to the hospital with severe pelvic pain. After several tests and scans, lo and behold, she was told that she was carrying a a 40-year-old "stone" fetus.
The 82-year-old woman was clearly perplexed by the findings. She had no idea she was carrying a calcified fetus in her body for four decades. Her baby had formed in her abdomen and not her uterus, but there was no way for the body to expel the fetus so it calcified. Her immune system protected her body from this "foreign" object, and therefore it turned to stone.
In 2019, another case of lithopedion was reported in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She had carried a stone fetus for 22 years.Events transpired like the aforementioned women; she had abdominal pain and had to be examined at the hospital.
In both the latter cases, the fetus was removed with surgery, but seeing that it doesn't really pose a health risk, it has not always proved necessary. Luckily, surgery was successful in this case.
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