HEALTH

Kearns woman loses organ in crash but it grew back

Mar 21, 2018, 6:45 PM | Updated: 9:05 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Five years ago, while living in Oklahoma, Brittany Hancock gave birth to twins. Four days later at an intersection, she was hit in a head-on collision.

Hancock’s spleen exploded, and she had to have emergency surgery.

“They thought they got all the spleen pieces, turns out they didn’t,” Hancock said.

A year later, she felt unexplained abdominal pain.

“I was crying and screaming it hurt so bad,” she said. In the E.R., Hancock said doctors discovered what was wrong. “I had five spleens attached to my intestines.”

The medical term for what happened to Hancock is splenosis, when spleen tissue attaches to parts of the body after trauma or surgery.

“A lot of blood flow goes through the spleen,” said Dr. Nick Paulk, a surgeon at St. Mark’s Hospital. He said while the spleen can’t regenerate back into a working organ, when it’s ruptured like in Hancock’s car accident, “It can implant and continue to survive.”

A healthy spleen has three main functions.

“It works a lot with your immune system to fight off infections,” Dr. Paulk said. “Second, it acts as quality control for your red blood cells and platelets.”

It can also help produce blood.

But when pieces of Hancock’s fractured spleen attached to her intestine, they enlarged and wreaked havoc on her digestive tract. “Caused a foot of my intestines to die and my body was going into sepsis,” Hancock said.

She had harmful bacteria in her body, which was life-threatening and required emergency surgery.

Doctors say what happened to Hancock is rare.

“I’m still in shock about it,” she said.

After a tough recovery, she is healthy. “I’ve cheated death twice now and it’s pretty crazy to say.”

She looks at life differently now. “You don’t know when someone’s going to go through that stop light and change your world forever,” Hancock said.

Doctors removed all the tissue that was shutting down her intestines. But they left two groups of benign cells inside. She says they told her they don’t expect this will happen again.

Doctors say the biggest problem people usually face after spleen removal is an increased risk of infections, but there are vaccines that can help. 

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Kearns woman loses organ in crash but it grew back