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Girl Dies After Hairball Removal

August 20, 1999

HASTINGS, England (AP) _ A 17-year-old girl died after an operation to remove a giant hairball from her stomach, the result of her habit of chewing her hair, an investigation has found.

Rachel Haigh was rushed to Conquest Hospital in Hastings in southeast England after complaining of stomach pains. While recovering from surgery, she suffered internal bleeding and died on Jan. 1.

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze ruled Thursday that the death was accidental. Because Rachel was studying hairdressing, however, he first called in an expert to ensure the hair was hers.

Pathologist Dr. Nera Patel said the hairball was 1 foot long, 10 inches wide and 4 inches thick.

``It was closely compacted and intertwined in the shape of a rugby ball,″ Patel said. ``No one in our medical team had seen anything like it.″

Dr. Annabel Moore, who carried out the operation, said the hairball filled the entire stomach cavity.

The girl’s mother, Norma Haigh, testified she thought her daughter had grown out of her hair-chewing phase.

``She used to chew her hair when she was younger, but had it cut short when she was about 10,″ Mrs. Haigh said. ``She began to grow it long again about five years ago, but I have not seen her chewing it recently.″

Mrs. Haigh added that she was shocked when surgeons showed her a photo of the hairball.

``I could not believe it,″ she said. ``It looked like a dead rat.″

Doctors said that despite the size of the hairball, Rachel still had been able to eat and drink normally.

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