Medicine: Great Cyst at Burnips

  • Share
  • Read Later

There was nothing much wrong with stocky Mrs. Gertrude Levandowski, now 58, until her husband died ten years ago. Then she began to gain weight. She did her best to take care of her house outside the small town of Burnips, Mich. (pop. 250), but as she got fatter & fatter, housework became more difficult. When she reached nine feet in circumference, all she could do was sit on a strong chair, smile cheerfully and peel a few potatoes. Her son Charles, 17, took over the housework.

The local doctors looked grave and thoughtful. Her condition, they told her, was caused by an ovarian cyst that had grown to improbable size. Cysts can be removed, but Mrs. Levandowski also had a bad heart, they said. She could not stand an operation.

Six-Yard Dress. About 18 months ago a new doctor, A. G. Goude, came to Burnips and studied Mrs. Levandowski. By that time her roomiest dress, made of six yards of cloth, was getting too tight. Her abdomen hung to her swollen knees. Dr. Goude decided that her bad heart was caused by pressure of the cyst. If the cyst were removed by surgery, all might be well.

Mrs. Levandowski hung back for a time, but at last made a big decision. She did not believe the doctors could help her, but she could not live much longer anyway, she thought, and if they operated on her, the doctors might discover something that would help other people. She told Dr. Goude to go ahead and try.

By careful maneuvering, Mrs. Levandowski was rigged into the ward of the Allegan Health Center. There was no single scale that could weigh her, so the staff moved two scales together and had her stand with one foot on each. Even this effort was ineffective. Both scales hit the 300 Ibs. maximum. The doctors decided that she probably weighed about 620 Ibs., which might make her the heaviest woman on record.

"Timber!" Waiting for her operation, Mrs. Levandowski was merry and full of jokes. To turn over in bed, she had to call for a task force of nurses. "They'd come arunning," she says, "and when they'd roll me over, I'd yell 'Timber!' "

During the operation, Dr. M. S. Roberts first tapped the cyst, drawing a fluid from it slowly, 120 drops a minute, so that no sudden loss of pressure would affect the heart. In four days he drew off some 200 Ibs. of fluid. Then the cyst itself was removed. It was about the size of a bushel basket, weighed 150 Ibs.

Mrs. Levandowski's heart held up. She is now convalescing cheerfully in her little house, surrounded by sons, daughters, grandchildren, dogs, a canary, a parakeet. She still weighs close to 300 Ibs., but much of it is loosely flapping abdominal tissue that once enclosed the cyst. She looks forward to her next operation some time in May, when all this will be removed. "Then," she says with a twinkle, "I'll be streamlined."