Posted on: December 4, 2019 at 9:11 am
Last updated: December 4, 2019 at 12:33 pm

For some women, finding out that they are pregnant can come as a huge surprise. For Monica Vega of Barranquilla, Columbia, the shock came much later when she found out that she wasn’t the only one who was pregnant – her baby was, too.

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Vega’s baby girl, Itzmara, was born at seven months by cesarean section. 24 hours later, doctors performed another c-section, this time on Itzmara herself, to remove her parasitic twin, whom she had absorbed in the womb [1].

Fetus-in-Fetu

This type of birth is an example of a very rare condition called “Fetus-in-Fetu”. Just how rare? It is thought to occur in only one in every 500 000 births [2].

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Fetus-in-Fetu, or FIF, occurs when one malformed fetus is enclosed within the body of its twin. Usually, it is found within the abdominal cavity [3].

Occasionally, FIF can be misdiagnosed as a teratoma, which is a tumor that develops in the tissue of a fetus and can sometimes contain bones, muscle tissue or even hair [4].

A FIF “twin” is referred to as heteropagus or “parasitic” twin because it takes nourishment from its sibling, but it is anatomically incomplete [5]. This means that the parasitic twin is missing certain vital organs – notably a heart and a brain [2].

Other Cases of FIF

What makes Itzmara’s case so rare is that doctors were able to diagnose the FIF during the pregnancy [2]. This is incredibly uncommon, as most cases go undetected for years.

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In 2015, a 45-year-old woman living in Cyprus underwent surgery for what she thought was a tumor on her ovary [6]. When the doctors performing the surgery got a closer look, they noticed the tumor on Jenny Kavanagh’s ovary had a face, an eye, a tooth and a long black hair [6]. Again, the mass had no heart and no brain.

Another report came out in August 2019 of a 17-year-old girl in India who was found to also have a parasitic twin. After going to the doctor complaining about stomach pains, they found the remnants of her malformed twin, including teeth, bones, and hair [7].

Doctors are still unsure why it can take so many years for symptoms to occur, however in most cases, once the mass is removed the patient makes a full recovery [8].

Are there any Risks Associated with Fetus-in-Fetu?

Thankfully, FIF is largely considered to be a benign condition [9]. 

It is important, however, to remove the mass in its entirety for a number of reasons. In one case, a mass that was not fully removed was reported to recur as a tumor four months later. Complete removal can eliminate the risk of potentially developing cancer later on [7].

The effects can be more than just physical. Discovering that you had a twin living inside of you for your entire life can have an emotional toll. 

“The fact that it had long black hair — just like mine — a face with one eye, and one baby tooth makes it more believable,” she said. “It’s difficult to describe how I felt when I saw it. I felt shocked, very scared, horrified, and it felt like an alien was inside me.” explained Kavanagh [6].

In the case of Itzmara, doctors opted to deliver her by cesarean section for fear that the internal twin would crush her abdominal organs during birth [2].

Today, this tiny medical marvel is doing very well according to her doctors.

“She has a little scar on her abdomen, but she is a normal baby now except that the whole world is talking about her.” [2]

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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