Slice of History: Longest Surgery: Feb.4-8,1951

When Gertrude Levandowski, a 56-year-old widow from Burnips, Michigan, enters a Chicago hospital, it's clear to doctors that they can't follow the usual procedure.

Levandowski weighs more than 600 pounds and a large part of that weight is the cyst itself.  It's so large that it's putting pressure on the woman's heart and the surgeons doubt that she'll survive if they try to cut out the massive growth.

So the lead surgeon, Dr. M.S. Roberts proposes a very different approach to getting rid of the cyst. Instead of hacking it out, he suggests gradually draining fluid from the cyst — like slowly deflating a balloon — then removing the shrunken tumor once it no longer presents a threat to Levandowski’s heart.

So they begin to drain it. Over almost four days they suck fluid out of the cyst at a rate of 120 drops per minute until they've extracted about 200 pounds of liquid. Though it's shrunken considerably, the growth still weighs more than 150 pounds, but it's small enough to remove through more conventional surgery.

Despite the trauma to her body, Levandowski recovers quickly and when she leaves the hospital, she has lost half her weight. A few months later, after surgery to remove another 50 pounds of excess flesh, she weighs under 300 pounds for the first time in decades.

More Slices of History

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Prohibition Kicks In: Jan. 16, 1920

Smoking Tied to Cancer: Jan. 11, 1964

The TV Dinner: Jan. 6, 1954

The 1st “Drunkometer”: Dec. 31, 1938