Gigantism May Be Death Sentence for Nevada Woman After Brain Surgery Deemed Too Risky

An estimated 60 million Americans -- one out of five people -- suffer from pituitary or hormonal disorders, according to the Pituitary Network Association.

Angus, once a beautiful 21-year-old who rode horses, danced and had a boyfriend, one day noticed changes in her 5-foot-8-inch frame: Her shoes didn't quite fit, her jeans were too tight and her hands got bigger.

"She was perfectly normal, but by age 22 she had grown three inches," said her mother. "Nobody knew what was going on."

Angus, who lived in Michigan and was a supervisor at a Walmart, began to worry when even her face and head got larger. Her bosses also noticed -- and fired her. And her boyfriend left when his parents began to ask, "Is she a man?'"

Tanya decided to return home in 2002. When her sister picked her up at the airport, she "freaked out," because she didn't recognize Tanya.

The doctor took one look and diagnosed acromegaly, also known as gigantism, caused by a tumor in her brain that is pushing on her pituitary gland, causing it to produce an excess of growth hormone.

"I don't know how to explain how it is, being a giant," Tanya told KTNV last month. "I put my shoes on in the morning, I'm like, 'Ugh, gosh they're growing again. I'm growing again.'"

Tanya has already outgrown three vehicles, according to Strutynski, 54, a medic who works three part-time jobs.

"If I could stick her on a regular airplane it would be no problem, a couple hundred dollars and she goes, but she doesn't fit," she said.

Sometimes Tanya can squeeze into the passenger seat of their minivan, but since she has the legs of a seven-foot-tall person, it would have been too painful to make the five-hour trip to California.

Acromegaly Affects Organs, Too

"The tumor has been growing from the time Tanya hit puberty," said Strutynski. "Her back is collapsing due to the overgrowth. As she grows her bones weaken and they break down. She is so big, her spine looks like a boomerang."

"When she grows, everything in her body grows -- her lungs, kidneys, bladder," she said. "Her body is literally having a hard time and she is so uncomfortable."

In more than 98 percent of the cases, acromegaly is caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland that causes it to secrete excessive growth hormone, according to the Pituitary Network Association.

Acromegaly is not that rare. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports six cases in every 100,000 people, but the association says many cases go undiagnosed or under-treated because doctors are not educated enough about the disease.

Two celebrities with the syndrome are Andre the Giant, the French wrestler who died in 1993, and Richard Kiel, who starred in several James Bond films in the 1970s as "Jaws."

If acromegaly is not diagnosed and treated, it can lead to serious damage to vital organs, such as the kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, spleen, pancreas, and parathyroid glands.

Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. Left untreated, it results in altered facial appearance and enlargement of the hands and feet.

In Tanya's case, the medications and prior surgeries have failed to stop the growth.

Her shoes -- 15-1/2 at the moment -- have to be custom-fit and her ring size has jumped from 6-1/2 to 20. Like others with the condition, she has headaches, tiredness and sleep apnea. She wears an oxygen mask at night.

The tumor has also caused arthritis and diabetes insipidus, which makes it hard for her body to maintain hydration.

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