Friday, April 17, 2009

Modern Medical Marvel: Fir Grows in Mans Lung, 2009, Ural Mountains

In a story that brings to mind early medical hoaxes such as Mary Tofts' miraculous, doctor-verified birthing of a litter of rabbits in 1726, doctors in the Ural Mountains claim to have recently opened up the chest of a man suspected of having lung cancer and finding... a small fir tree.

From the article in the Gaurdian:
The annals of medical anomalies bulge with stories from far-flung places where the idea of a reliable source is a chap sitting on a gate in a goatskin fleece who waves to passersby, even if there are none. And so to the Urals, where medics are reported to have removed a tiny fir tree from a man's lung, after he complained of chest pains. Before doctors opened him up, they were convinced he had lung cancer. Now, they're convinced he inhaled a seed, which sprouted inside him.

Surgeon Vladimir Kamashev at Izhevsk hospital was about to remove a large part of 28-year-old Artyom Sidorkin's lung, when he took a closer look, according to reports. He was stunned to see a 5cm-long spruce inside, the Russian news agency Pravda says.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, is flummoxed. "A seed might be able to germinate in the damp, dark conditions of a lung, but it's still bizarre," she says.

The gruesome photo [see bottom image] released with the story claims to show the spruce jutting from a clump of Sidorkin's lung tissue. The plant looks firm and healthy, with bright green needles. It's as if it had been grown in the best soil with plenty of sunlight. It lacks roots in the way fresh clippings do.

Lungs are good at getting rid of unexpected visitors. They are lined with mucus that traps everything from mould spores to flies. This is pushed out of the lungs by tiny hairs called cilia. You end up coughing it out, or swallowing it.

"The closest I've heard to this are balls of mould that grow in patients who have abnormalities in their lungs," says Simon Johnson, a reader in respiratory medicine at Nottingham University. "They can get up to a few centimetres, but you would know because you would be coughing up blood."
Both images are drawn from the Geekologie post "Gross!: Man Grows Small Fir Tree In Lung;" click here to see that post. Read the full Gaurdian story by clicking here. To find out more about Mary Tofts, click here. You can watch a short, unintentionally surrealistic video on the story (after waiting through an annoying commercial) by clicking here.

Thanks to John Troyer, Death and Dying Practices Associate, Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath) for bringing this story to my attention!


Castle in the Air said...

You know I just love this blog.
Fantastic reading.
With all my best wishes,

Yukiko said...

wedish news have had 2 stories about people who manage to swallow a pice of pine that got stuck in the lungs.
They are only in swedish, nad google translator can't translate it (due to much flash and so on on the page) but here are the links so u can copy/paste to translate if your interested.

Anonymous said...

On a related note- a doctor I worked with one told me of a patient that was coughing up blood- they found a nodule in his bronchus. When they biopsied it, it turned out the nodule was a pistachio nut! The guy had inhaled it a while back, and his body had tried to isolate it by growing tissue around it. The craziest part to me is that someone could inhale a nut and not realize it. --Jill G.

tony said...

Debunked (with citations) here -

Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

This brings to mind a case I read about many years ago. A young woman presented with severe coughing and it was discovered she had a pine sprig in her lung. She then remembered inhaling a bit of the xmas tree one year but thought nothing of it. Over the years she had problems coughing and what she described as terrible bad breath.