I was perusing a Ripley’s Believe It or Not book over the weekend, and it detailed the life of the world’s tallest man (8’11" at the time of his death, age 22). His astounding growth–6’2" at age 8–was due to a problem with the pituitary gland.
My question is whether such problems still arise today. My belief is that such problems with the gland are now remedied at birth, but I may be incorrect. We certainly have our super-tall Shaquille O’Neals, etc; I’m asking about the people who were born with this particular pituitary gland affliction. Thoughts? Ideas? Information?
I knew a young man when I was in college about five years ago who, at the ripe old age of 19, had achieved a height of 7’11". He was plagued with a number of disorders including one that affected his pituitary gland. The rate at which he grew was quite unhealthy and he was always flying to various parts of the country to see particular doctors. I did not know him that well and only discussed his medical condition with him once. I’d offer more information, but this is all I’ve got.
No NBA players (that I can recall) although very tall, are true “Freak of Nature” tall (ie 8 feet or above) they are mostly just very big (normal) people though being very (normally) tall and large can stress joints and cardiac function and in some cases and cause premature death. The latter (FON) tall people are almost exclusively glandular or hormone level dysfunction related conditions which are much less common today than in years past. I would expect that most “freaks” in the future will have to come out of poorer countries as medical science advances.
Most true “giants” are typically very ill and short lived for the aforesaid reasons.
At the other end of the scale it would be interesting to know if dwarves/little people (or whatever is currently politically correct) have normal lifespans or not. I saw a dwarf some years ago on Mexican TV who was frighteningly small (about 19 inches or so) and looked as if he could sit in your hand. He was obviously (or appeared to be) slightly retarded in intellectual development unlike most “normal” dwarves.
I wonder if there is a critical lower limit for human size
without losing intellectual capacity. How small can a fully competent human brain be?
The world’s tallest human, the 8’11" young man I referred to in the OP, did not die from heart or other congenital problems, as I originally had thought. Rather, he died from a massive infection.
As he grew, he lost sensitivity in his lower limbs (particularly, legs); the explanation offered in the book was that the signals from the nerves in his feet/lower leg had so far to travel to his brain that they grew more and more distant, until they faded nearly completely. In his later teens-early 20s, he started wearing leg braces to help support his massive frame. One day, at age 22, he was complaining to his father about not feeling well. Turns out, he had a massive infection in his leg from where the brace had been cutting into his flesh–and he had never felt a thing. He was hospitalized that night, and died within 24 hours.
I find that curious for many reasons. First, if you know your–or your son’s–legs are numb, wouldn’t you check them carefully for injuries you may not have felt? Second, wouldn’t he have noticed the problem when removing the braces at night (assuming he did)?
I used to date a guy whose “little” brother had a condition that may be this one. He was 6’7" in the fifth grade (he was in my brother’s class). Last I checked he had reached 8 feet and was still growing (slowly). He had a few minor heart problems but seemed to (pardon the pun) grow out of them when he stopped growing so fast. The only real problem he ever had was that he played basketball (duh!) but he could not palm the ball because his top joint in his fingers had failed to develop. His handwriting has suffered, also. He is not a “big” guy–he is actually on the skinny side. The rest of his family was “normal” but his dad was rather tall for a normal guy (6’6").
Robert Waldo’s story really is sad, isn’t it? I’ve seen a picture of him standing next to his younger (completely normal) brother and the difference is just amazing.
Many unusually tall people suffer from Marfan’s Syndrome, which causes that really prominent jaw, rough features, long spidery finger look. It also causes the heart valves to leak, which is what usually kills these people. I can’t recall her name right now, but there was a woman who played on the US Olympic Volleyball team that died from heart failure while in the court. The man that played Bentley, the neighbor on the Jeffersons has/had it, and scientist believe that Abraham Lincoln may have suffered from it as well.
Yes and no. My fiancé “likely” has Marfans, but diagnosing it–and its rarity–are a bit more complex than you described.
Marfans is a genetic disorder. Quite simply, it is a mutation of a gene; but, this mutation can take hundreds of different forms, making diagnosis extremely difficult. Typically, Marfans patients are indeed tall and lanky (although not “freakishly” tall as Robert Waldo), but they often are not. The only two reliable symptoms used for diagnosing this disorder are 1) dislocating eye lens and 2) swelling aorta (aneurism). My fiancé has neither of these symptoms, but several of the more minor characteristics. Because he has so many, he is “likely” a Marfans patient and receives a yearly echocardiogram to monitor his heart, even if he is not officially diagnosed. Thus far, all is okay.
Marfans is also a dominant gene, hereditarily speaking. If a person has Marfans, there is a 50% chance that their child will have it as well. However, the child’s form of the disease may bear no resemblance to the parent’s. The mutation is independent of that. One person, such as my fiancé, may have the long-legged, tall, incredibly flexible body, with poor eyesight and overdeveloped ribs, but have a normal aorta. However, their child may have normal eyes, normal height, normal appearance–and a badly dissecting aorta.
The volleyball player you were referring to is Flo Hyman. She was never diagnosed until a post-mortem was done on her, which is sadly too often the case with athletes with the disease (and it is more commonly found in professional basketball and volleyball players). Her autopsy revealed a severely dissecting (read: burst) aorta, and more interesting, a second more minor and healing dissection that had apparently occurred a few weeks before this fatal one. And yes, there is discussion that Abraham Lincoln may have had it as well.
It’s an odd disease, really. But fortunately enough, not everyone dies from it, and not everyone has a compromised heart due to it. Thank heavens!
This discussion continues elsewhere as TALL people are more common today than ever…
I have noticed unusually tall women in the past ten years & recently encountered a mother who is 6’10" w/a daughter over 7’3"…
Not at birth, but one reason for regular medical checkups for kids that including measuring their height is to spot abnormal growth patterns. If a kid is growing much faster than normal (such as Robert Wadlow did) it’s an indication to look for problems of that sort. Many problems can now be treated or cured before the person achieves freakish height and/or distorted features.
Many pituitary problems do not manifest until the person enters adolescence. Surgery can now take care of them easily. Andre the Giant refused to have corrective surgery and eventually died as a result of his non-stop growth. Current wrestlers today who have had surgery to stop their growth are Big Show and Great Kahli, both in the area of 7 feet tall. I understand some pituitary problems are not easily correctable so there will be some people who continue to grow until they die of related complications.
Watched a tv feature about non-gigantism giants. Unlike Robert Wadlow whose condition was a medical abnormality, there are people born to be giants but are otherwise normal. It’s a rare condition. In the case of a 6-year old boy, he was shown looming among children in his age group, looking like he was 3 or 4 years older. You can imagine how sad it must be for the kid (he did look misserable.) The doctors say he will be at least 6’10, and weigh at least 400 pounds upon maturity.
>snip<At the other end of the scale it would be interesting to know if dwarves/little people (or whatever is currently politically correct) have normal lifespans or not. I saw a dwarf some years ago on Mexican TV who was frighteningly small (about 19 inches or so) and looked as if he could sit in your hand. He was obviously (or appeared to be) slightly retarded in intellectual development unlike most “normal” dwarves. >snip<
Mostly normal. They prefer to be called ‘little people’, dwarfism is the disease, midgets are proportionate little people.