Growth Hormones on Rise in Healthy Kids

Insurance companies now make it harder to seek reimbursement for rGH. Doctors are also more suspicious of parent requests for testing.

At the age of two, Calli Chambers was the size of a 9-month-old and had only five teeth. The soft spot on her head, which normally closes in infancy, was still open.

"No pediatrician caught that," said her mother, Jennifer Chambers of Severn, Md. "They said you are not that tall, and she's been sick."

Designer Parents Make It Hard on Others

An endocrinologist later prescribed rGH and now, at 4, Calli has hit the 10th percentile, growing 7 and 3/4 inches and gaining 10 pounds. Treatment also helps her "kidney reflux," a disorder associated with the lack of hormone.

"I think it's hard enough to get approval when the kids need it," said Chambers, who now works as a consultant for the Magic Foundation, which advocates for those with pituitary disorders.

Melissa J. Grey, of San Diego, Calif., said the lives of her two sons, both diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, have been "transformed" by rGH.

Her 11-year-old jumped from the second to the 48th percentile in two years.

"He now sleeps well, has a normal appetite, has muscle tone for the first time and enjoys a host of other health and metabolic benefits, such as cardiovascular strength and improved aerobic capacity," she said.

"For every child whose parents simply want them taller, there are dozens who legitimately need treatment and are unable to afford it," said Grey, 44. "I fought for over five years, seeing a plethora of pediatricians and pediatric endocrinologists before someone legitimized my concerns and ordered the appropriate and lengthy testing for my children. It was this 'designer child' bias, along with the fact that I am short, that cost my kids much of their childhood."

"There is a tremendous misconception that this is a steroid and that my children are artificially doping, when in fact they have a legitimate congenital condition." she said. "But I want my kids to be proud of who they are. They are so much more than their genetics."

She said her children are "blessed to live at a time when science has made true health safe and possible."

But other parents, like Chairiah Myntti of St.Augustine, Fla., worry about the dangers of growth hormone therapy.

Myntti, now 38, missed a bullet when her doctor urged her mother to consider giving her hGH in 1984. At 13, she only weighed 73 pounds and was 57 inches tall.

Growth Hormones: A Cautionary Tale

"My mother declined the hormone growth and said 'I'm just going to let nature take its course," Myntti told "She told me she was afraid the drugs might do something bad to me and make me deformed."

Today Myntti is only 5 feet tall, in part because of her Asian heritage. Two of her four children were also targeted by doctors for their size. Her 11-year-old was so stunted as a baby that Myntti was falsely investigated for child abuse.

Her 16-year-old has been teased for being smaller than the shortest girl in his class.

"If they were to use a growth chart from, say, Southeast Asia, my children and I would be somewhere between average to enormous," Myntti said.

Some children will always be at "the end of the line," according to Dr. Chris Feudtner, director of the department of medical ethics at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. "A certain portion will always be deemed short. It's unavoidable."

He concedes short children sometimes face bullying, but parents cannot always protect their kids from bad experiences.

"We are trying to create perfect childhood by doing things that ultimately don't empower us to be strong adults," Feudtner told "Medicalizing the situation might not give the results we are looking for, even with the best of intentions."

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