A seven-year-old girl has undergone surgery to remove a sibling foetus with arms and legs attached to her back.
Doctors removed the foetus from the youngster and confirmed they could make out “fuzzy outlines” of a head and limbs.The unidentified schoolgirl was born by Caesarean as a twin - but it now emerges that an unusual medical defect had caused the embryo of an unnoticed triplet to be embedded inside her.
Such exceptionally rare cases normally involve twins and are usually noticed at birth with the undeveloped embedded foetus being removed.
But in this case in Kazakhstan the third foetus remained inside the child, gradually growing, and causing worsening spinal problems for the girl.
By the time her parents - from a remote village - took her to surgeons in Almaty at the age of seven, the foetus, known as a teratoma, was the size of a human fist causing a swelling in her lower back and upper buttock.
“The teratoma was covered with membrane in which the foetus was located,” explained Dr Alibek Zharasov, deputy head doctor of Children's City Hospital No. 2 in Almaty.
The medics were unable to see the sex of the unborn and non-viable triplet but it was assumed to be a sister.The girl, who carried her sibling, was found to be clear of cancer or other serious condition, said the surgeon.
“The parents were perhaps afraid of seeing doctors,” said Dr Zharasov.
“We don’t know true reason they delayed seeking medical help for this teratoma and getting it treated.”
Had the lump not been removed “it could have developed into a dangerous tumour,” he said.
He confirmed the girl - who underwent surgery late last year - was not in danger and had suffered no complications.
He was accompanied by three other surgeons in undertaking the unusual operation - Dr Marat Rabandiyarov, Dr Azamat Zhailganov, and Dr Marat Kaptagaev.
Dr Zharasov, 41, said no genetic or others tests have been conducted on the removed sibling carried by the seven year old.
“We were interested to establish if the tumour was dangerous for the child, and the nature of it,” he said.
“Now we know its not, we do not need further tests.”
Such cases - known as foetus in foetu (fetus in fetu) - occur in twins but the Kazakh doctors are unaware of any previous case involving a triplet.
Inside the womb, one foetus wraps around the other.
The enveloped foetus becomes a parasite depending on the host unborn child’s blood supply.
It has no brain and is unable to survive on its own and if not removed by surgery after birth, it grows slowly inside its twin.
In 2003 there was another startling case in Kazakhstan, involving a boy, also aged seven.
He became known as “the boy who gave birth to his twin” when surgeons operated on his distended stomach that made him look pregnant.
Inside him they found a large, oval mass covered in veins, each connected to blood vessels, with limbs, nails and male genitals.
In the new case, the parasitic foetus was not as well developed.
The mother, now 43, had six children before giving birth to the girl with the teratoma and her healthy “twin”.
“This was the couple's seventh complete pregnancy,” said Dr Zharasov.
"The mother gave had given birth six times previously.
“This child with the teratoma was the first-born of the triplets.
“The mother is now 43 and the father 47.