A breast cancer survivor’s breast implant was swallowed up by her own body during a Pilates session, resulting in surgical intervention to retrieve it and place it back into the breast, according to an article by doctors at Johns Hopkins’ University and published in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine). The 59-year-old female had undergone a double mastectomy, followed by breast implants.

The woman had recently undergone heart surgery – minimally invasive surgical mitral-valve repair for the treatment of severe mitral regurgitation – which had weakened her ribs, the article added.

During the Pilates stretching exercise, the woman said she experienced no shortness of breath or pain.

During a Valsalva maneuver – when the person breaths out but blocks the exit of air deliberately – an area of her right anterior chest ballooned out. An ultrasound scan showed that she had lung herniation through which the prosthesis (breast implant) appears to have slipped (between the lower part of the her right lung and ribcage).

A computed tomography scan showed that the implant had lodged in the pleural space in the thorax. Surgeons managed to retrieve it and reposition it (back in the breast).

Put simply – when she did a breathing exercise, involving taking a deep breath and blocking the exit of air as she exhaled (Valsalva maneuver), the pressure pushed the implant through the space between her ribs.

The surgeons say that it was not the breast reconstruction that caused the implant to move into the body, but rather the incision from the heart procedure. The procedure made a very small opening, but enough for the implant to fall through. They added that this would not have happened had she just had breast reconstruction.

In order to make sure this does not happen again, the area through which the implant passed had been repaired with mesh.

Experts say this is an extremely rare, one-off occurrence.

Written by Christian Nordqvist