An extremely rare condition means a University of Derby graduate has part of her womb lining in her lungs – causing them to menstruate each month. Lorraine Ashley is one of just half a dozen people in the UK who have a condition called catamenial pneumothorax. It is a form of the common condition endometriosis, which affects around two million women in the UK. The cause is uncertain.
It means that small pieces of the womb lining are found elsewhere in the body, such as the ovaries or bowel. The rare form which Lorraine suffers from means those bits of womb lining are in her lungs and bleed each month as part of her cycle. Prior to major surgery, it was so bad that the blood collected in little pockets within her lungs which eventually burst open.
This caused air and blood to collect between her lung and chest wall, meaning there was not enough room for the lung to fully inflate when taking a breath – a condition known as collapsed lung. It caused Lorraine a lot of pain and, in extreme cases, left her struggling to breathe. She had a five-and-a-half-hour operation during which her lungs were attached to her chest wall and the lung lining was removed.
Although it has not entirely stopped the bleeding, it is now under control. The 36-year-old said: "The lung collapses were an incredibly painful experience but I was able to breathe because I used to cycle 120 miles a week so I was incredibly fit." However, in months when the collapses were particularly bad, it would affect her breathing and she would have to go to hospital.
The danger of leaving the condition untreated was that it could put pressure on the heart, which sits in between the lungs. Lorraine said: "The danger of it, and the reason I had surgery, is that it can knock your heart out of place and you can die." Now, after studying art at the University of Derby, Lorraine has been creatively inspired by her experience.
By drilling holes into slate, she has recreated the images of her lungs which were taken during the hospital scans. They have gone on display at Royal Derby Hospital where she was cared for following the operation in Nottingham. Her art is called Air of Hysteria and has been described by Lorraine as a chance to turn her experiences "into something really positive".