autopsy explainer animation orig_00000000.jpg
autopsy explainer animation orig_00000000.jpg
Now playing
00:58
What happens during an autopsy?
Pool
Now playing
02:49
See Biden and Putin shake hands as summit begins in Geneva
CNN
Now playing
11:01
Keilar and Berman: Vote shows GOP cares about police ... until they don't
President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the 'Villa la Grange', in Geneva, Switzerland.
Patrick Semansky/AP
President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the 'Villa la Grange', in Geneva, Switzerland.
Now playing
02:55
Ward describes 'uncomfortable' photo op between Biden and Putin
biden putin summit us russia press pools clash collins sot vpx_00012417.png
biden putin summit us russia press pools clash collins sot vpx_00012417.png
Now playing
02:31
Collins: 'Combative exchanges' between Russian and US press corps
weisselberg
JB Miller/Trump Organization
weisselberg
Now playing
01:43
NYT: Trump finance chief could faces charges as early as this summer
President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One at Geneva Airport in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Biden is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.
Patrick Semansky/AP
President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One at Geneva Airport in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Biden is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.
Now playing
02:35
Biden: If Putin doesn't cooperate, we will respond
OAN
Now playing
02:00
Oklahoma Senate candidate wants to recreate Arizona election audit in his state
In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, a US military Chinook helicopter lands on a field outside the governor's palace during a visit by the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, and Asadullah Khalid, acting minister of defense of Afghanistan, in Maidan Shar, capital of Wardak province. - A skinny tangle of razor wire snakes across the entrance to the Afghan army checkpoint, the only obvious barrier separating the soldiers inside from any Taliban fighters that might be nearby. (Photo by THOMAS WATKINS / AFP) / To go with 'AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT-MILITARY-US,FOCUS' by Thomas WATKINS        (Photo credit should read THOMAS WATKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
THOMAS WATKINS/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, a US military Chinook helicopter lands on a field outside the governor's palace during a visit by the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, and Asadullah Khalid, acting minister of defense of Afghanistan, in Maidan Shar, capital of Wardak province. - A skinny tangle of razor wire snakes across the entrance to the Afghan army checkpoint, the only obvious barrier separating the soldiers inside from any Taliban fighters that might be nearby. (Photo by THOMAS WATKINS / AFP) / To go with 'AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT-MILITARY-US,FOCUS' by Thomas WATKINS (Photo credit should read THOMAS WATKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
05:32
They helped the US during war. Now, they are reportedly being hunted down
San Francisco theft video pkg vpx_00000306.png
KGO
San Francisco theft video pkg vpx_00000306.png
Now playing
01:28
Video of brazen theft highlights a big problem in San Francisco
Now playing
02:20
'You are being evasive': Questioning of FBI director gets contentious
David T. Evans
Now playing
01:44
Pilot captures stunning video of landspout
Getty Images
Now playing
03:25
See top Trump DOJ official's two-word response to election probe request
Now playing
02:31
Merrick Garland announces plan to combat domestic terrorism
Two different videos showing several arrests made by Ocean City Police in Maryland following their enforcement of smoking ordinance violations on Saturday have gone viral, with viewers questioning the use-of-force techniques applied by officers responding to the incidents. CNN has not seen video of what happened at the beginning of this incident. In videos obtained by CNN and confirmed by Ocean City Police to show parts of the incident, police are seen arresting at least three individuals as a crowd of people gathers around. In one video, one of the people being arrested is held down by five officers as one officer can be heard saying something about resisting. "I'm not resisting," the teenager answers, face down on the boardwalk. As the teen asks officers why he's being arrested, one of the officers begins to knee the individual in the side, while two of the other officers pull away. The officer eventually knees the man five times before officers appear to put the man in handcuffs.
KIARA TATE/usetmx
Two different videos showing several arrests made by Ocean City Police in Maryland following their enforcement of smoking ordinance violations on Saturday have gone viral, with viewers questioning the use-of-force techniques applied by officers responding to the incidents. CNN has not seen video of what happened at the beginning of this incident. In videos obtained by CNN and confirmed by Ocean City Police to show parts of the incident, police are seen arresting at least three individuals as a crowd of people gathers around. In one video, one of the people being arrested is held down by five officers as one officer can be heard saying something about resisting. "I'm not resisting," the teenager answers, face down on the boardwalk. As the teen asks officers why he's being arrested, one of the officers begins to knee the individual in the side, while two of the other officers pull away. The officer eventually knees the man five times before officers appear to put the man in handcuffs.
Now playing
02:38
Video shows police using force on teens while enforcing smoking ban
The California State flag flies beside a sign for its sister city Split outside City Hall, in Los Angeles, California on January 27, 2017.
A campaign by Californians to secede from the rest of the country over Donald Trump's election is gaining steam with suporters given the green light to start collecting signatures for the measure to be put to a vote.


 / AFP / Mark RALSTON        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
The California State flag flies beside a sign for its sister city Split outside City Hall, in Los Angeles, California on January 27, 2017. A campaign by Californians to secede from the rest of the country over Donald Trump's election is gaining steam with suporters given the green light to start collecting signatures for the measure to be put to a vote. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:21
California is still requiring masks in these places
BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - MARCH 18: A view of daily life in part of street on March 18, 2021 in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic.  Most of the population in Bangui live well below the poverty line, in a country traumatised by years of unrest. (Photo by Siegfried Modola/Getty Images)
Siegfried Modola/Getty Images
BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - MARCH 18: A view of daily life in part of street on March 18, 2021 in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic. Most of the population in Bangui live well below the poverty line, in a country traumatised by years of unrest. (Photo by Siegfried Modola/Getty Images)
Now playing
06:12
Russian mercenaries accused of atrocities in the Central African Republic
CNN —  

On an early spring day in 2018, the faint smell of formaldehyde floating in the air, 26-year-old medical student Warren Nielsen and four of his classmates prepped a cadaver in the chilly dissection lab at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

Similar groups of five gathered around bodies on the other 15 tables in the anatomy class, all eager to explore the mysteries of the human body they had seen only in textbooks.

The cadaver assigned to Nielsen’s team was a 99-year-old woman who had died of natural causes. Her name was Rose Marie Bentley, but the students didn’t know that then. To honor and respect the privacy of those who offer their bodies to science, no further details are given medical students about the person who had once inhabited the body lying on the silvery slab before them.

Rose Marie Bentley, not long before she died and donated her body to science.
Courtesy Ginger Robbins Bentley
Rose Marie Bentley, not long before she died and donated her body to science.

But as the students and their professors were soon to find out, Bentley was special, so special she deserved her own unique spot in medical literature and history books.

The reason? A condition called situs inversus with levocardia, in which most vital organs are reversed – almost like a mirror inside the body. That, along with a host of other weird but wonderful abnormalities, made Bentley a sort of medical unicorn.

“I think the odds of finding another person like her may be as remote as one in 50 million,” said assistant professor Cameron Walker, who teaches the Foundations of Clinical Anatomy class at Oregon Health and Science University. “I don’t think any of us will ever forget it, honestly.”

‘This is totally backwards’

On this March day, the assignment was to open the body’s chest cavity to examine the heart. It wasn’t long before Nielsen’s group began to question their fledgling medical knowledge.

“Her heart was missing a large vein that’s normally on the right side,” Nielsen said.

Bewildered, he and his team called the professors over and asked: “Where’s the inferior vena cava? Are we missing it? Are we crazy?”

“And they kind of rolled their eyes,” Nielsen said, “Like, ‘how can these students miss this big vessel?’ And they come over and that’s when the hubbub starts. They’re like ‘Oh, my God, this is totally backwards!’ “

A typical body has a large vein called the vena cava that follows the right side of the vertebral column, curving under the liver and emptying deoxygenated blood into the heart.

Bentley’s vein was on the left, and instead of terminating directly into the heart, which is typical, “her vein continued through her diaphragm, along the thoracic vertebrae, up and around and over the aortic arch and then emptied into the right side of her heart,” Walker said.

“Normally speaking, none of us have a vessel that does that directly,” he added.

That wasn’t the only irregularity Walker and his students found in Bentley’s body.

Numerous veins that typically drain the liver and other parts of the chest cavity were either missing or sprouting from an unusual spot. Her right lung had only two lobes, instead of the standard three, while the right atrium of her heart was twice normal size.

“And instead of having a stomach on the left, which is normal, her stomach was on the right,” Walker said. “Her liver, which normally occurs predominantly on the right, was predominantly on the left. Her spleen was on the right side instead of its normal occurrence on the left. And then the rest of her digestive tract, the ascending colon, was inverted as well.”

The mutations in situs inversus with levocardia occur early, Walker explained, possibly between 30 and 45 days into the pregnancy. No one knows why.

The condition occurs in only 1 out of 22,000 babies and is invariably associated with severe congenital heart disease. Because of the heart defects, only 5% to 13% live past the age of 5; case reports mention one 13-year-old boy and a 73-year-old who at the time was the second-longest survivor.

But Bentley was an anomaly, one of the few born with the condition that didn’t have heart defects, Walker said.

“That is almost certainly the factor that contributed most to her long life,” he said.

And that, along with all her other exceedingly rare anatomical abnormalities, is what makes Bentley 1 in 50 million, Walker estimated.

’Mom would have been so tickled’

Rose Marie Phelps was born in 1918 in Waldport, a small town on the Oregon coast. The youngest child of four, “she was babied,” said daughter Patti Helmig, who at 78 is the oldest of her five children. “She would admit she was spoiled.”

A hairdresser by trade, Bentley was always fascinated by science, Helmig remembered, and she believes her mother would have made a fine nurse if she had been given the opportunity to train.

“She volunteered during World War II for one of the nurse’s aid corps,” Helmig said. “And she was thrilled when someone reached out to her about doing a study on smallpox survivors, which she had as a child.”

Rose Marie Bentley with a big catch.
Courtesy Ginger Robbins Bentley
Rose Marie Bentley with a big catch.

Despite chronic heartburn (which would have been explained by her unusual gastric anatomy), Bentley never showed any negative effects from her flip-flopped innards, said 76-year-old Ginger Robbins, the third of Bentley’s children.

“We had no reason to believe there was anything like that wrong,” Robbins said. “She was always very healthy. She was always doing something, taking us to Campfire Girls, fishing, swimming. She was an excellent swimmer.”

The only clue anything might be unusual came when Bentley’s appendix was removed, said 66-year-old Louise Allee, the fourth-born child and youngest of the daughters.

“The surgeon made a note that her appendix wasn’t in the right spot when they took it out,” Allee said, “but never said anything to us. Nobody said a thing when they took her gallbladder out and did a hysterectomy, either.”

Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter

Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

The decision to become a body donor began with Jim Bentley, Rose Marie’s husband, but she too “thought it was the greatest thing,” Allee remembers.

“There was a poem that my dad found, and it was all about donating your parts,” she said. “You know, ‘give my eyes to a man who has never seen the sunrise’ and the like. He kept showing us the poem. It was really important to them.”

The poem, written by Robert Test, opens with the line: “Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face, or love in the eyes of a woman,” and ends with “If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.”

The couple’s beliefs about donation made an impact. All three daughters plan to donate their bodies for research.

Rose Marie Bentley, a one in 50 million gal.
Courtesy Ginger Robbins Bentley
Rose Marie Bentley, a one in 50 million gal.

Jim Bentley kept his promise and donated his body when he died of pneumonia more than a dozen years before his wife’s death. His daughters know that he would have loved to have known about his wife’s peculiar insides so he could have teased her about it.

“He also would have been tickled they could teach medical students something so different and really make some great use of her body,” Allee said.

And what would Bentley have said about being a one in 50 million kind of gal?

“She would’ve just thought it was funny,” Robbins said.

Allee agreed: “She would have had a big smile on her face.”