Six-time world champion wrestler Paul Wight, who goes by the ring name Big Show in WWE, stopped the progress of his acromegaly with a successful surgery on his pituitary gland in the early 1990s.
In a statement, WWE spokesman Adam Hopkins said that "[a]s part of WWE's ongoing wellness evaluation, we are happy that The Great Khali (Dalip Singh) had successful pituitary surgery, and we look forward to him returning to the ring in the near future."
Cohen said Singh could be healthy enough to return to the ring within months, but if he does, it might be at the risk of internal bleeding at the surgical site caused by physical contact.
Dr. Joseph Maroon, who serves as WWE's medical director and led the UPMC surgical team that operated on Singh Wednesday, deferred comment to Hopkins. Dr. David Black, the Wellness Program's administrator, and Dr. Vijay Bahl, a UPMC endocrionologist who serves on the program's group of physicians, could not be reached for comment.
WWE's knowledge of Singh and other wrestlers' acromegaly could put it in a precarious legal position, said Gabriel Feldman, who directs the sports law program at Tulane Law School.
Whether WWE could be held liable for failing to address such conditions depends on the terms of its talent contracts, Feldman said, adding that WWE attorneys are known for the scrupulousness with which they guard the publicly traded but privately controlled company from liability. WWE contracts tend to tilt most of the leverage toward the company, he said.
"This may be more of a moral problem than a legal problem," Feldman said.
Still, he said, the litigation currently facing the National Football League — over players' accusations that the league deliberately withheld information about the long-term effects of concussions — may offer arguments in favor of holding WWE liable for the health problems of acromegalic wrestlers. If the NFL litigation succeeds, he said, it will likely "open the floodgate" to similar lawsuits by athletes in other sports.
WWE established its Wellness Program in 2006, after star wrestler Eddie Guerrero suddenly died of acute heart failure, a result of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Under the program, Aegis Sciences Corporation annually tests performers for drug use, including steroids, and cardiac problems. In August 2007, Montel Porter, whose real name is Hassan Assad, was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart disorder in a routine checkup.
Dr. Bryan Donohue, a UPMC cardoiologist and WWE's cardiovascular consultant since 2008, said in his experience, WWE has never put commercial interests above the health of its performers, adding that many WWE executives are former wrestlers.
"The narrative is obvious, that the interests of WWE are antithetical to those of the talent, but I've found that they've been very responsive to things I've asked them to do," Donohue said. "I've never experienced any pushback on any issue."
While Donohue said he could not comment on Singh's case, he said the decision to operate on a pituitary tumor does not follow reflexively from a diagnosis of acromegaly. The timing, especially for adults, can be influenced by a range of factors.
Braunstein, the Cedars-Sinai endocrinologist, said he has seen several acromegalic patients who have refused surgery and even a growth hormone-reducing medication in hopes of preserving their gigantism. When he tells them that acromegaly shortens life expectancy, they often "shop around for other doctors," he said.