Rose Marie Phelps was born in 1918 in Waldport, a small town on the Oregon coast. The youngest child of four, she was always fascinated by science and even volunteered during World War II for one of the nurse’s aid corps.
Nothing out of the ordinary when this women died aged 99 of natural causes except the frequent heart burn. But everything wasn’t as it seemed or so discovered a group of young med students dissecting her body that was donated to science.
A typical body has a large vein called the vena cava that follows the right side of the vertebral column, curving under the liver and emptying deoxygenated blood into the heart.
Rose Bentley’s vein was on the left, and instead of terminating directly into the heart, which is typical, her vein continued through her diaphragm, along the thoracic vertebrae, up and around and over the aortic arch and then emptied into the right side of her heart.
That wasn’t the only irregularity Walker and his students found in Bentley’s body.
Numerous veins that typically drain the liver and other parts of the chest cavity were either missing or sprouting from an unusual spot. Her right lung had only two lobes, instead of the standard three, while the right atrium of her heart was twice normal size.
According to one of the professors present there, “And instead of having a stomach on the left, which is normal, her stomach was on the right, her liver, which normally occurs predominantly on the right, was predominantly on the left. Her spleen was on the right side instead of its normal occurrence on the left. And then the rest of her digestive tract, the ascending colon, was inverted as well.”
Bentley it seemed had a condition called situs inversus with levocardia, in which most vital organs are reversed — almost like a mirror inside the body.
The mutations in situs inversus with levocardia occur early, possibly between 30 and 45 days into the pregnancy. No one knows why.
The condition occurs in only 1 out of 22,000 babies and is invariably associated with severe congenital heart disease. Because of the heart defects, only 5% to 13% live past the age of 5; case reports mention one 13-year-old boy and a 73-year-old who at the time was the second-longest survivor.
But Bentley was an anomaly, one of the few born with the condition that didn’t have heart defects.
One of her daughters admitted, “The only clue anything might be unusual came when Bentley’s appendix was removed. The surgeon made a note that her appendix wasn’t in the right spot when they took it out.”
Well, thank God, Bentley decided to donate her body to science or this unique miracle would have been lost.