The Legend of the Buffalo Chest

Marielle M. J. Blacha, Illaa Smesseim*, Ivo van der Lee, Joost G. van den Aardweg, Marcus J. Schultz, Marja L. J. Kik, Linda van Sonsbeek, Bernadette S. de Bakker, Richard W. Light

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The “buffalo chest” is a condition in which a simultaneous bilateral pneumothorax occurs due to a communication of both pleural cavities caused by an iatrogenic or idiopathic fenestration of the mediastinum. This rare condition is known by many clinicians because of a particular anecdote which stated that Native Americans could kill a North American bison with a single arrow in the chest by creating a simultaneous bilateral pneumothorax, due to the animal's peculiar anatomy in which there is one contiguous pleural space due to an incomplete mediastinum. Research Question: What evidence is there for the existence of buffalo chest? Study Design and Methods: The term “buffalo chest” and its anecdote were first mentioned in a ‘‘personal communication’’ by a veterinarian in the Annals of Surgery in 1984. A mixed method research was performed on buffalo chest and its etiology. A total of 47 cases of buffalo chest were identified in humans. Results: This study found that all authors were referring to the article from 1984 or to each other. Evidence was found for interpleural communications in other mammal species, but no literature on the anatomy of the mediastinum of the bison was found. The main reason for this research was fact-checking the origin of the anecdote and search for evidence for the existence of buffalo chest. Autopsies were performed on eight bison, and four indeed were found to have had interpleural communications. Interpretation: We hypothesize that humans can also have interpleural fenestrations, which can be diagnosed when a pneumothorax occurs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2275-2282
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

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