After her death at 99 of natural causes in October 2017, Rose Marie Bentley, a pet feed store owner, donated her body to research at a University in Portland, Oregon.
She sent most of her adult life in Oregon, near the rural north-western town of Molalla, and owned and operated the Bentley Feed Store with her husband.
It was not until then that it was discovered that she has unknowingly lived with her organs on the wrong side of her body due to a rare congenital condition. This was initially noticed by students in an anatomy class, and despite numerous surgeries, her condition had not been identified.
The ability to live a long and healthy life with such a condition puzzled doctors. She had situs inversus with levocardia, so her liver, stomach, and other abdominal organs were reversed right to left, while the heart remained in the normal position, on the left side of her body.
Likewise, she exhibited numerous other irregularities, such as a hiatal hernia (a stomach protrusion through the diaphragm), and a range of vein abnormalities.
Dr. Cam Walker, an assistant professor of anatomy at Oregon Health and Science University, helped students unravel the mystery of Mrs. Bentley’s body, and said that it is surprisingly unusual.
He explained that while his students were dissecting the cardiovascular cavity and couldn’t locate a major vessel, the witnessed a “cascade effect” and soon realized that the entire body is unique.
They started noticing that the blood vessels were different there and called the professors over, so they decided to take look and try to figure out what the anomaly was.
Initially, it wasn’t completely clear, but when they went into the abdominal cavity found that her organs were transposed left to right.
Yet, the unusual blood vessels near the heart had helped compensate for the condition.
This condition is very rare, occurring about once in every 22,000 births, and it usually causes life-threatening heart issues and other abnormalities, but the longevity of Mrs. Bentley surprised them all.
She must have been the oldest person to live with this condition, as Dr. Walker explains that only one in 50 million people born with this condition live into adulthood. Scientists know of only two other cases where patients reached the age of 70.
Dr. Walker says that none of his colleagues had ever seen a donor with situs inversus, and believes his students will never forget it.
When asked to describe his reaction to their finding, Dr. Walker said that he experienced a mix of curiosity, fascination and a sense of wanting to explore a little bit of a medical mystery — a medical marvel that was in front of them. He believes the students felt something very similar as well.
Mrs. Bentely’s children claim that she lived a healthy life, without any chronic conditions, apart from her arthritis.
Nobody knew about her condition, not her five children, nor her 14 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, or 11 great-great-grandchildren.
Once, a doctor had difficulty locating her appendix, but that was all.
One of her five children, Louise Allee, believes her mother would like the attention her rare case is receiving, and would be thrilled to know that had been different, but made it through.
Both, her mother and father, decided to donate their bodies to the Oregon Health and Science University body donation programme, after reading a poem by Robert Noel Test about remembering departed loved ones.