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Mystery object removed from man's arm after 51 years

Arthur and Betty Lampitt
In this photo from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Arthur and Betty Lampitt of Granite City, Ill., show off the 1963 Thunderbird turn signal that was embedded in his arm for 51 years, after he had surgery to remove it on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Jesse Bogan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The surgeon had never seen anything like it.

When 75-year-old Arthur Lampitt of Granite City, Illinois, had an operation on Wednesday to remove a metal object that was lodged in his left arm, no one was quite sure what they'd find.

It turned out to be the turn signal from a 1963 Thunderbird that had been embedded in his arm ever since a car accident more than half a century ago.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recounted the story of Lampitt's medical mystery, which began one day in 1963 when he was driving his brand-new Thunderbird to work. Lampitt crashed head-on into a large truck, totaling his car and breaking his hip. He also suffered cuts from flying debris and broken glass.

The wounds healed, and Lampitt went on about his life, getting married in 1965, raising four boys, and working in real estate, appraisals and odd jobs.

Then, as Lampitt and his wife Betty told the Post-Dispatch, 10 or 15 years ago he was surprised to set off the metal detector during a visit to a courthouse. He went for an X-ray and doctors discovered a metal rod, about the size of a pencil, lodged in his left arm. Since it didn't cause him any pain or interfere with the use of his arm, doctors told him to just leave it be.

So he did -- up until a few weeks ago, when something in his arm seemed to shift. "The arm started bulging," Betty Lampitt told the paper. Whatever was stuck in his arm seemed to be trying to work its way out.

Thinking back on that long-ago car accident, Arthur Lampitt developed a theory. He pored over old photographs of the wreck that a friend of his had taken at the time, and noticed that the metal turn signal lever seemed to be missing from the left side of the steering wheel. Could it really have been embedded in his arm all this time?

It took less than an hour for Dr. Timothy Lang of the City Place Surgery Center in suburban St. Louis to prove that theory correct. The metal turn signal, 7-inches long and rather corroded, was removed in one piece.

"We see all kinds of foreign objects like nails or pellets, but usually not this large, usually not a turn signal from a 1963 T-Bird," Lang told the paper. "Something this large often gets infected."

Lampitt is now recovering at home and trying to decide what to do with his macabre keepsake. He said he might make a key chain out of the old turn signal. "We'll figure out something, I am sure," he said.

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