Doctor diagnoses Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's infertility

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Frida Kahlo is an oil painting on canvas by Artist René Romero Schuler.
Image: Tom Dupuis.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

According to a new diagnosis by a surgical pathologist, Frida Kahlo most likely suffered uterine damage during a streetcar accident as a teenager and this led to a rare condition known as Asherman's syndrome, and that would explain the Mexican artist's infertility.

Dr. Fernando Antelo, from the Harbor–UCLA Medical Center, said, "Her survival defied the grim prognostication by her physicians; however, complications from this physical trauma would emerge in her adulthood." He presented his diagnosis yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anatomists in San Diego.

Asherman's syndrome is normally caused by a trauma to the uterus that results in internal scar tissue. For example, it can occur after multiple procedures to clear the uterus after a miscarriage or abortion, which is known as a "D & C" procedure. Antelo said Kahlo tried to have children many times and her miscarriages, as well as three therapeutic abortions, could have further aggravated the scarring.

At present the condition could be diagnosed and treated after advancements in medical imaging and hysteroscopy, but in Kahlo's time, Dr. Antelo said, the technology had not advanced far enough to diagnose and treat her. Asherman's syndrome has been known since 1894 when it was first reported. Kahlo died at age 47 in 1954.

"She kept attempting to have children with a uterus that wasn't in any condition to do that," Antelo said.

Antelo, who has been working on connections between art and medicine, says that Kahlo brought her infertility to the canvas and this can be seen in her many paintings of reproductive organs or in her depiction of her own bleeding body in the 1932 painting Henry Ford Hospital. In that image, Kahlo is shown lying on a hospital bed with multiple umbilical cords extending from her body and each one holds an object or body part, except one holding a baby.


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