Your body can store all sorts of things!
September 29, 2012 9:19 PM   Subscribe

This is a real life story, with images, that contains the following head turning phrase: "...Hilton's doctors stowed it away inside her stomach..."

Do check out the references in the above link to learn about the fascinating medical procedure decompressive hemicraniectomy. Or watch a video demonstration of one being performed.

As to storing part of a person's skull elsewhere in their body while brain swelling is relieved, been there, done that. There's an extra benefit from removing a piece of the skull: brain scans are easier.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Uh...can someone weigh in on why it makes more sense to store a skull-portion inside the patient's body than replicating whatever benefit thus conferred with some sort of technology thingy?
posted by threeants at 9:26 PM on September 29, 2012


Because it's cheaper and a proven practice to store it in the body. Why recreate the wheel?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:28 PM on September 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah. Why not let the body do the leg-work of tissue maintenance?
posted by lumensimus at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is brilliant and uses the amazing powers of a biological machine far more complex and resilient than any technology yet devised. I'm not at all sure why people (see comments on click through) are reacting so negatively to this. I suppose there's some fundamental body-horror sort of thing that gets triggered, but it's not that different from doing one-way bone or skin grafts, which have been commonplace for decades.
posted by dhartung at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's pretty cool, but it sort of surprises me. I mean, how hard could it be to store it at the right temperature outside the body?
posted by threeants at 9:33 PM on September 29, 2012


First, it is a sterile location. Second, the bone continues to receive nourishment and remains viable.
posted by jamincan at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I read that at first as "Hitler's doctors stowed it away inside her stomach" and thought this was going to be a very different article.

Also I was curious about the idea of storing it in the "stomach" because I thought that would really mess up the digestion and wouldn't it get damaged by all the acids and the crunching? But it's not actually the stomach, it's "under the skin and next to his intestine" according to the Telegraph link. I wish people would be more accurate with stuff like this.

I'm not really surprised that the body is still a good place to keep one's own body parts. In addition to temperature there's also immune system issues to think about.
posted by bleep at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


threeants, bone is not dead. The cells in bone need oxygen and nutrients just like all the other living tissue.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:20 PM on September 29, 2012


I just stowed 6 cookies away in my stomach, but no one writes an article about me.

(Yeah, it's actually super cool.)
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:25 PM on September 29, 2012 [27 favorites]


Somewhere in there, a white blood cell on a routine patrol outside the stomach suddenly ends up in a piece of skull. He pulls over to the side of the blood vessel and spends several minutes poring over a map, before finally flagging down a nearby hemoglobin. "Hey buddy, can you help me out? I'm really lost".
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:28 PM on September 29, 2012 [50 favorites]


I assumed this was about Paris Hilton and was really interested to learn what doctors had stowed away in her stomach.
posted by fshgrl at 10:33 PM on September 29, 2012 [20 favorites]


That's some next level shit.
posted by djduckie at 10:35 PM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


The reason to keep the skull piece is that bone's living tissue. It's a combination of a stiff mineral skeleton with a flexible protein matrix, and specialized cells keep it in a constant state of remodeling depending on the mechanical loads placed on it (so it's responsive to functional demands). So, unlike synthetics, it can fix itself if it's damaged, and unlike cadaver or animal bone, it's your own tissue so it doesn't provoke a destructive immune reaction (if your immune system is working correctly.)

Yeah, properly speaking, the bone was stored in Ms. Hilton's abdominal cavity, but the reporting came to us from the NY Daily News via io9. Not exactly home to the world's most accomplished science writers.
posted by gingerest at 10:38 PM on September 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not exactly home to the world's most accomplished graduates of 6th grade science class apparently.
posted by bleep at 10:54 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neat!

For some reason it's reminding me of Julia Sweeney's adventures with surgery on her reproductive organs. Specifically just after she wakes up.

Doctor: "We have some bad news. We've lost one of your ovaries."
Julia: "Oh, it died?"
D: "No, we've lost it."
J: "You what?"
D: "We can't find it."
J: "You moved them up 10 inches. Aren't they like here or something?"
D: "Well, one is there."
J: "..."
D: "Sometimes, ovaries, when they're cut off from their responsibilities, go traveling."
J: "..."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:10 PM on September 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


OUR BODIES ARE SO COOL AND AMAZING


Also sometimes gross.


And those things are not mutually exclusive.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:41 PM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is that a skull in your pants or are you happy to see me?
posted by phaedon at 3:14 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I also recently heard of a guy having his pelvis removed in order to irradiate it, then put back in.

Where would you start with that?

(Well probably years and years of medical school, but you know what I mean.)
posted by colie at 3:15 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like decompressive hemicraniectomy and haggis, you should never watch either one being made.
posted by hal9k at 3:17 AM on September 30, 2012


I tried some decompressive hemicraniectomy once.

It tasted like chicken.
posted by Skygazer at 3:33 AM on September 30, 2012


The other option, at larger hospitals, is to put the bone in a 'tissue bank'. These may be more common at hospitals that do transplants...I've worked on two wards on two hospitals that do hemicranis as needed, and never encountered abdominal storage, although I knew it existed. It makes perfect sense from a 'keep the bone alive' standpoint, but it does entail more surgery on the patient.

Another interesting thing about the procedure is the physics of it. Your skull normally keeps atmospheric pressure from pushing directly down on your brain. If there's a lot of extra pressure inside and you remove the bone, it's fine. In a few cases, though, the pressure balance gets all wacky and the result is 'sunken skin flap syndrome', and the bone has to go back in to eliminate the effects of a full atmosphere of pressure.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:26 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is great, and Mrs. Hilton's doctors did lovely work. I'm thankful she shared her story and photographs.
posted by Goofyy at 4:28 AM on September 30, 2012


Some people keep their brains in their pants, so this is not THAT unusual.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:49 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am so afraid of clicking any of those links.
posted by 4ster at 5:06 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


They don't have insurance. Still beautiful beauty queen, white, christian, blogger, great support network of family and friends, story picked up by national media. I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that they'll eventually be ok financially. But how do people manage if they don't have all that going for them?
posted by marsha56 at 7:26 AM on September 30, 2012


This reminds me of an episode of Grey's Anatomy where the attached the patient's severed arm to his chest until they could perform the surgery to put it back where it belonged.
posted by discopolo at 7:28 AM on September 30, 2012


I immediately started coming up with possibilities in response to the question. Spare keys? Jimmy Hoffa? A superintelligent parasitic twin?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:02 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure it was not in her stomach, since that would have digested it. This was on Reddit a few days ago with a source link to the Daily Mail, which also claimed it was in the stomach. Sigh. Good job, reporters.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2012


But how do people manage if they don't have all that going for them?

They don't get care, and they die.
posted by localroger at 8:30 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


In common parlance 'stomach' just means 'abdomen'. In fact, I have to tell my doctor I'm having stomach pains even though I know he knows I know it's nothing to do with the stomach and all about the colon.
posted by Segundus at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2012


If you want to know why surgeons are trusting the human body to protect bones and keep them alive like it's been doing for millennia, instead of putting it into some kind of special smart doctor's smart bone box of technology... Maybe you should read that Mefi from a few days ago re: 4,000 surgical implements left inside patients per year, exposes about infection and neglect based complications, fecal e-coli on doctors hands, faces, and phones, and multi drug resistant everything basically smeared over every American hospital like a cawl of slow death. I'd trust a hospital staff to maintain and clean a skull bone keeping box like I'd trust the dudes at Meineke to... remove part of my skull and put it into my abdomen, I guess.
posted by jarvitron at 9:20 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But doctor, where's his head?"

"Um, well, we're temporarily storing it in his body."

"In his stomach?"

"No, not exactly."
posted by mule98J at 9:51 AM on September 30, 2012


I've had a few patients that got hemicranis and if you don't have a good, cost-effective storage facility, then storing them intracorporeally is a good idea (especially for longer-term). The sad thing is that when you have two patients that could benefit from decompression, the sad fact is that because it's a procedure with such relatively high mortality, you tend to select only the youngest and fittest and those likely to be able to withstand the protracted healing and to benefit from the necessary post-event rehab. Older/sicker patients have a much lower probability of getting hemicranis because their survival/rehab stats are so low. So they tend to get more conservative management, with a lower interim mortality rate but higher long-term neurological morbidity rate. I have utmost respect for critical care neurologists, who can make decisions like this dispassionately, routinely, day after day.
posted by meehawl at 11:05 AM on September 30, 2012


Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding
posted by homunculus at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2012


Hopkins Doctors Grow New Ear On Woman’s Arm
posted by homunculus at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2012


Possibly I read too many odd medical stories, because I read the headline and totally called it as "skull".
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on September 30, 2012


. . . the following head turning phrase . . .

I see what you did there.
posted by The Bellman at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought I'd learned from this post that corneas were sometimes stored in other parts of the body for some reason, but I can't find it there. So I will simply mention that I heard it somewhere and include the above link because it's neat.
posted by hattifattener at 11:14 PM on September 30, 2012


Read that first as "Hitler's doctors" On second parsing the story got a lot less interesting.
posted by delmoi at 1:58 AM on October 1, 2012


Uh...can someone weigh in on why it makes more sense to store a skull-portion inside the patient's body than replicating whatever benefit thus conferred with some sort of technology thingy?
Probably because the technology doesn't exist? You have to keep the cells alive.
posted by delmoi at 2:01 AM on October 1, 2012


They don't have insurance. Still beautiful beauty queen, white, christian, blogger, great support network of family and friends, story picked up by national media. I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that they'll eventually be ok financially. But how do people manage if they don't have all that going for them?
I think you may be underestimating medical costs in the U.S.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doctors are awesome! Two years ago my uncle fell off a high ladder after he was shocked while changing a light fixture that should have been cut off from the power source. He cracked his skull on the ground and sustained a traumatic brain injury, which required the removal of part of his skull in a similar procedure to the one described in this story.

Instead of in his stomach, his skull was stored in a tissue bank (I think) at the hospital for over a year while his brain healed. He just needed to wear a helmet to protect the section of his brain that was missing it's skull covering.

The whole time I pictured a portion of his skull in a hospital refrigerator, wrapped in tinfoil sitting behind someone's lunch. He's doing great now, skull intact thanks to some really great medical staff.
posted by elvissa at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2012


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