In the city of Nagpur, India, Sanju Bhagat’s stomach was once so swollen he looked nine months pregnant and could barely breathe. Bhagat felt self-conscious his whole life about his big belly. But his problem erupted into something much larger than cosmetic worry one night in June 1999.
An ambulance rushed the 36 year-old farmer to the hospital. Doctors thought he might have a giant tumor, so they decided to operate and remove the source of the bulge in his belly. The surgeon Dr. Ajay Mehta said that usually he can spot a tumor just after he begins an operation. But Dr. Ajay encountered something he had never encountered while operating on Bhagat.
As he cut deeper into Bhagat, gallons of fluid spilled out– and then something extraordinary happened. “To my surprise and horror, I could shake hands with somebody inside his belly!” he said. “It was a bit shocking for me.” Dr. Ajay just put his hand inside and he said there are a lot of bones inside. First, one limb came out then another limb came out. Then some part of genitalia, then some part of hair, some limbs, jaws, limbs, hair.
Inside Bhagat’s stomach was a strange, half-formed creature that had feet and hands that were very developed. Its fingernails were quite long. At first glance, it may look like Bhagat gave “birth.” Actually, Dr. Ajay removed the mutated body of his Bhagat’s twin brother from his stomach.
Bhagat, they discovered, had one of the world’s most bizarre medical conditions known as fetus in fetu. It is an extremely rare abnormality that involves a fetus getting trapped inside of its twin. The trapped fetus can survive as a parasite even past birth by forming an umbilical cord-like structure that leeches its twin’s blood supply until it grows so large that it starts to harm the host, at which point doctors usually intervene.
According to Dr. Ajay, there are less than 90 cases total recorded in medical literature. Fetus in fetu happens very early in a twin pregnancy, when one fetus wraps around and envelops the other. The dominant fetus grows, while the fetus that would have been its twin lives on throughout the pregnancy, feeding off its host twin like a kind of parasite.
Usually, both twins die before birth from the strain of sharing a placenta. However, sometimes, as in Bhagat’s case, the host twin survives and is delivered. What makes his case so unusual is that no one suspected Bhagat had a twin inside him for 36 years.
Bhagat said he was very much relieved after his operation. He was not interested in knowing what Dr. Ajay did to him or seeing what he had removed from his abdomen. “He didn’t want to see it because it was looking very ghastly” Dr. Ajay said. Today, Bhagat is in good health and can lead a normal life.