Mystery of Santa Rosa Mummy May Be Solved

FRIDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- A cardiac embolism may have caused the death of the naturally preserved Santa Rosa mummy in the 13th century, according to Italian researchers who examined her heart.

An embolism is an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by a blood clot or other material.

The Santa Rosa mummy was a girl aged 18 to 19 who had an improperly developed torso. This suggests that she had a rare condition called Cantrell's syndrome, which causes defects of the diaphragm, abdominal wall, pericardium, heart and lower sternum, according to background information in the article.

The research was published online June 11 in The Lancet.

Tuberculosis has been suggested as the cause of her death, but the researchers found no signs that she was infected with TB. However, a low-intensity radiograph of the mummy's heart revealed a ventricular diverticulum, a heart defect commonly associated with Cantrell's syndrome. The radiograph also revealed what appeared to be a blockage that was likely fatal.

"Ventricular diverticulum is one of the most common heart defects described in patients with Cantrell's syndrome and is frequently associated with development of thrombus and subsequent embolization . . . The present data suggest that a cardiac embolism could have been the cause of her death," Ruggero D'Anastasio, of the Department of Human Movement Sciences at the State University "G. d'Annunzio" in Chieti, Italy, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, June 10, 2010