The Science and Spirit of Giants and Dwarfs

'Like Any Other Family'

Joshua Campbell is another story. The Campbells' 9-year-old biological son is not a dwarf and already towers over his mother. Joshua is a boy of average height who has absorbed the family's unusual diversity in his own way.

"I reach things for my mother," he said. "At the grocery store, it gets really important."

He is quick to explain to his classmates why his parents are different. "They were made by God and I love them," he said. "That's what I tell the little kids."

Mark Campbell completes this remarkable family portrait. He is a systems analyst with the Social Security Administration and has still another, much rarer, type of dwarfism called hypochondroplasia.

At 4 feet, 7 inches, he is taller than most dwarfs. His body proportions are closer to an average human, but his arms are disproportionately short. He is beginning a project to lower the kitchen counters in the family's suburban home, but otherwise, the Campbells have had to do little to adapt their house to their various sizes and strengths.

Height simply doesn't enter into the equation, said Susie Campbell when asked what makes her family — with four such physically distinctive members — unique.

"We are a family with a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. We laugh, we have fun together. … We are just like any other family. No different."

The Tallest Human Beings on Earth

While dwarfism stems from a genetic mutation, the most familiar types of gigantism are created by runaway activity in a pea-size gland that lies behind the nasal cavity at the base of the brain — the pituitary, which releases growth hormones.

When Vovkovinskiy was 3 years old, he already was nearly 5 feet tall. Doctors discovered a tumor in his pituitary that was causing his growth spurts.

At the age of 7, Vovkovinskiy came to the United States from Ukraine to receive medical treatment in an attempt to control his growth. His pituitary was flooding his system with growth hormones and, in turn, triggering other hormones that caused his bones to grow longer and longer. Those chemical surges are what create pituitary giants, who are the tallest human beings on Earth.

Surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tried to take out the pituitary tumor, but it was embedded too deeply for a complete removal. Vovkovinskiy kept growing. At 7 feet, 8 inches, he is only an inch shorter than the Mongolian herdsman identified by the 2007 Guinness World Records as the tallest man on Earth, Bao Xishun (who gained worldwide attention in July when he married a 5-foot-6-inch saleswoman). When the new Guinness World Records come out next month, Leonid Stadnyk from the Ukraine will be recognized as the world's tallest living man, at 8 feet, 5.5 inches.

Vovkovinskiy wears a size 25, 10-wide shoe.

"I'm having a terrible time finding a pair of shoes that's comfortable and fits me right," he said. "My feet have wounds on them and they're not going to heal anytime soon unless I get a good pair of shoes."

Vovkovinskiy is a popular figure with children, and friends say he has a heart of gold. By any standard, it is a very large heart. According to the National Geographic Channel, it weighs one-and-a-third pounds — double the size of an average person — and pumps more than a half cup of blood with each stroke.

Vovkovinskiy reached his current height at the age of 21. When a pituitary giant reaches puberty, hormones are released that signal the body to stop growing.

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