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Correspondence |

Trees Don't Grow in the Lungs! FREE TO VIEW

Ai-Ping Chua, MBBS, MMed; Atul C. Mehta, MB, BS, FCCP
Author and Funding Information

Affiliations: Drs. Chua and Mehta are affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Correspondence to: Ai Ping Chua, MBBS, MMed, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Respiratory Institute, 9500 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44195; e-mail: chuaa@ccf.org


Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians (www.chestjournal.org/site/misc/reprints.xhtml).


© 2009 American College of Chest Physicians


Chest. 2009;136(4):1187. doi:10.1378/chest.09-1392
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We read with interest a recent article1 on the BBC Web site of a 5-cm fir tree discovered by doctors in the lungs of a Russian botanist who underwent resection for a “lung tumor” after he presented with chest pain. The surgeon who operated on him commented that “The branch was green, as if it had just been taken from the wood. It's still a mystery how the tree got in there.” It was thought that the patient had inhaled a seed, which then grew into a tree inside his body! Two pulmonologists from South Africa were skeptical and believed it to be a medical hoax.2

Coincidentally, in another recent article published around the same time in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology, Davis et al3 described the case of a 45-year-old man in whom recurrent pneumonias developed 26 years after an impaling accident on a tree sucker and who was found to have a 5-cm splinter from a piece of wood in his right mainstem bronchus following a thoracotomy. The article was entitled “A tree grows in bronchus”; yet, the incident on aspiration was well documented. The title of the article was chosen to express the patient's perception and to make it “catchy.”

We would like to bring to the attention of readers that trees do not grow in humans. To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a single report in the medical literature of seeds and/or plants growing in humans. If they did, watermelon seeds and peanuts,4,5 which are the most commonly aspirated foreign bodies, would be growing out of control from our lungs. Moreover, it makes no biological sense that in the absence of sunlight and appropriate nutrient medium, photosynthesis and germination of a seed can take place. Foreign-body aspiration often goes undetected if the initial choking episode is not obvious. In adults, a reason for the lack of acute symptoms may be the larger caliber of airways, resulting in most foreign bodies lodging in distal airways. Seeds and plant material by themselves, however, are radiolucent, and any radio-opacity seen is likely from complications. A high index of suspicion is required. A bronchoscopic examination of the airway will establish the diagnosis.

In the realm of scientific observation, the adage “trees do not grow in the lungs” indeed holds true in every sense.

Financial/nonfinancial disclosures: The authors have reported to the ACCP that no significant conflicts of interest exist with any companies/organizations whose products or services may be discussed in this article.

BBC Newsround Tiny fir tree found in man's lung.September 7, 2009 Available at:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_8000000/newsid_8000000/8000046.stm.
 
Health 24.com Tree in lung “a hoax.”.Accessed September 7, 2009 Available at:http://www.health24.com/news/General_health/1-915,50480.asp.
 
Davis KL, Channick CL. A tree grows in bronchus. J Bronchol Intervent Pulmonol. 2009;16:133-134. [CrossRef]
 
Mahafza T, Khader Y. Aspirated tracheobronchial foreign bodies: a Jordanian experience. Ear Nose Throat J. 2007;86:107-110. [PubMed]
 
Chik KK, Miu TY, Chan CW. Foreign body aspiration in Hong Kong Chinese children. Hong Kong Med J. 2009;15:6-11. [PubMed]
 

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References

BBC Newsround Tiny fir tree found in man's lung.September 7, 2009 Available at:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_8000000/newsid_8000000/8000046.stm.
 
Health 24.com Tree in lung “a hoax.”.Accessed September 7, 2009 Available at:http://www.health24.com/news/General_health/1-915,50480.asp.
 
Davis KL, Channick CL. A tree grows in bronchus. J Bronchol Intervent Pulmonol. 2009;16:133-134. [CrossRef]
 
Mahafza T, Khader Y. Aspirated tracheobronchial foreign bodies: a Jordanian experience. Ear Nose Throat J. 2007;86:107-110. [PubMed]
 
Chik KK, Miu TY, Chan CW. Foreign body aspiration in Hong Kong Chinese children. Hong Kong Med J. 2009;15:6-11. [PubMed]
 
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