My sister died a year ago, 34 days after major surgery following a rupture and gangrene of the small intestine. She had a condition known as a Meckel’s diverticulum — an intestinal hangover from the embryonic period caused when the pedicle between the nucleus and the developing intestine is not reabsorbed as it should have been. About 2% of the human population have Meckel’s diverticulums, many more males than females. The diverticulum, which develops as a small pouch in the intestine, is typically made of intestinal embryonic tissue and behaves just like the rest of the intestine. In far fewer cases, it comprises acidic pancreatic embryonic tissue that does not behave like the rest of the intestine. My sister’s diverticulum was pancreatic. She had gastric issues throughout her life. She was treated for a range of guessed-at conditions, but the condition was not diagnosed. She was 71 years old when she died. Her surgeon said the rupture looked as though a hand grenade had exploded i...

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