LA BOCA, Chile -- Doctors in the small Chilean town of La Boca have found a calcified fetus in the uterus of an elderly woman who says she never realized she got pregnant.
Estela Meléndez, 91, says she has had a lump on her belly for many years but had no idea that she was carrying a fetus. Doctors say it has been in her uterus for more than six decades. The fetus is calcified and poses no health risk to the woman.
Meléndez has difficulty hearing and in recent years her gait has been slowed by arthritis. But otherwise she's doing fine. She's a resident of La Boca, a town located where the Rapel River meets the Pacific Ocean in the municipality of Navidad.
It was not until she recently suffered a fall that doctors spotted something on her X-ray that caused concern.
"The doctor said I had a tumor and that they needed to operate on me," Meléndez said.
But when a second X-ray was ordered to confirm, doctors couldn't believe their eyes. The mass they were looking at turned out not to be a tumor, but a fetus.
"I have the lump here," Meléndez says, touching her belly.
For the elderly woman and her family, the finding has been quite a shock. Meléndez's husband of 74 years, Manuel González, died in January at age 91. González made a living as a fisherman and a boater in the coastal town. One of her few regrets, Meléndez says, is that she and her husband were unable to have children.
"We suffered tremendously because of this reason," Meléndez said.
"Can you imagine? More than 60 years," said Luis Meléndez, the woman's nephew. "I wonder how she never felt bad once the fetus died inside of her."
Doctors at the local clinic considered surgery to remove the fetus but later determined that, in this case, operating on a 91-year-old patient was riskier than doing nothing at all. Meléndez says it hurts sometimes, but more often than not it's just an uncomfortable lump.
On a deeper level, she says, the lump on her belly reminds her of her husband and their unfulfilled dream of having a child all those years ago.