The patient had come with heart failure and had a physician's aggressive plan at the University of California at San Francisco to help.
There, doctors put a heart pump through the leg artery to fill his organs with blood. However, the strategy has one drawback: Lumps can form through their use. So the doctors gave the unknown man anticoagulants to dilute his blood.
But his airways began to seep away.
"He had a slow haemorrhage that continued despite the medication," said Gavitt A. Woodard, a staff member of Cardiac Surgery at University Hospital, The Washington Post said.
Lumps form. The patient coughed for days, Woodard said. They were cylindrical and small at first, like little worms.
Then the patient thundered with a hard cough and "spewed out" a blood-red tangle that was about five inches wide.
Woodard's team, along with his colleague Georg Wieselthaler. Carefully put the clot on a surgical drape.
What they found was amazing. The patient's blood had accumulated in his right bronchial tree – a part of the network where air flows through his lungs – and solidified "like Jell-O," Woodard said. And it came out completely and intact.
"No one on our team saw anything nearby," she said.
The 36-year-old patient was intubated for two days The incident, which occurred "recently," Woodard said, although he declined to provide further information, citing the patients' privacy.
He died a week later, Woodard said, but his death had nothing to do with the incident. He had a lot of severe conditions, and the clots he had coughed were a side effect of the medication, she said.
"It's a nice anatomy," she said. "It's a sad story, but it's a very cool picture."
The clot did not help the researchers advance medical knowledge, she said.
But his photo has so intrigued people that articles in medical journals since their release often no longer appear in New England Journal of Medicine on November 29.
The clot is also an opportunity to show just how complicated the human body is, Woodard said. Something everyone thought he knew until presented differently – like the incredibly detailed formations of fallen ice under a microscope.
"It's like the biggest snowflake you've ever seen," Woodard said.
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