Rose Marie Bentley was an avid swimmer, raised five kids, helped her husband run a feed store, and lived to 99. Only after she died was it discovered that all her internal organs—except for her heart—were in the wrong place.
The case, presented recently at an anatomists conference, was astounding—especially because Bentley lived so long. People with the condition—known as situs inversus with levocardia—often have life-threatening cardiac ailments and other abnormalities, according to Oregon Health & Science University.
Assistant professor Cameron Walker’s anatomy class at the university in Portland was examining the heart of a cadaver last year when they noticed the blood vessels were different. Upon opening the abdominal cavity, they saw all the other organs were on the wrong side.
Bentley or her family had not known about the condition, which OHSU says occurs only once in every 22,000 births.
Bentley, who lived in Molalla, 25 miles south of Portland, had led a normal life. Her only recurrent physical complaint was arthritis, her daughter Louise Allee told the Associated Press. But there were signs.
When Bentley was in her 50s, she underwent a hysterectomy, and the doctor also wanted to remove the appendix but couldn’t find it, Allee said, but it was removed later. OHSU noted that Bentley had three organs removed, but no other surgeon had recorded an unusual location.
Allee said her mother would have been delighted that the donation of her body led to a learning experience.
“She would have been tickled to know she could educate with something unusual,” Allee said