'Dwarf' No More: One Woman's Story of Undergoing Controversial Lengthening Surgeries

PHOTO: Tiffanie DiDonato, shown here with her husband and baby boy, suffers from a rare form of dwarfism and endured excruciating and controversial series of limb lengthening surgeries.
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Tiffanie DiDonato said everything she has ever wished for has come true: a handsome husband, loving friends and a new baby. But most of her childhood dreams play out in simple, everyday victories, like taking out the trash or driving.

DiDonato, 32, was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism. The condition left her with a "typical size" torso, but abnormally short arms and legs. By the time she was in middle school, she was around 3-foot-6.

Growing up in Marlborough, Mass., DiDonato fantasized about being tall enough to grab something off the grocery store shelf, cook on the stove, take out the trash and drive a car, but almost everything was out of reach.

But that all changed when DiDonato endured an excruciating and controversial series of limb-lengthening surgeries, which breaks bones and forces them to re-grow longer. It was a decision she made when she was very young, knowing that it would have risks and rewards with a lifetime of consequences.

At age 8, DiDonato had her first surgery to lengthen her arms and gain four inches of height.

"When I woke up, when it hurt so much, you freeze it, almost like if you scream it is going to hurt worse," she said. "All you can do is kind of let the tears fall and deal with it and suck it up and let it ride."

When she was 15, DiDonato decided to have the surgery again. Ignoring the recommended maximum of four inches, she and her doctor decided not to put a cap on her growth. Her mother, who raised her to be a fierce fighter, said she supported her daughter's decision.

"It was all about independence," Robin DiDonato said. "It was doing things on her own, brushing her own hair. My biggest fear was her being dependent on others for her care because, let's face it, Gerry and I won't be around forever."

PHOTOS: Tiffanie's Transformation Before and After Surgery

Her father, Gerry DiDonato, said he told her she didn't need to have the surgery, and it was torture to him to watch his daughter suffer.

"It was very nerve-racking," he said. "She would cry it out. It was tough … it's horrible."

But Robin never wavered. She said she didn't let herself cry in front of her daughter, even during the most gut-wrenching days.

"I was not going to because if I broke, maybe she would have too, maybe she would have stopped," Robin said. "Who knows what she would have done. I think she needed me to be strong for her."

After her second surgery, Tiffanie DiDonato gained an unprecedented 10 inches of additional height, putting her at 4-foot-10 -- right on the cusp of little-person status. She kept a journal, which she said helped her get through the painful process.

"I was honest with myself, if I wanted to die, if I felt like that's what I wanted to do, then I wrote it down," she said.

Her journal was turned into a memoir she defiantly titled "Dwarf." In it, DiDonato chronicles her "no pain, no gain" view of life and how surprisingly grateful she is for the experience.

"If you go through a struggle, if you know what sacrifice is, and you have felt a little pain, it makes you that much braver," she said. "It makes you a little bit more aware."

DiDonato is now married to Eric Gabrielse, a nearly-six-foot-tall Marine, and they recently welcomed a baby boy.

"She's so powerful and strong," Gabrielse said of his wife. "Being in the military, you need somebody that one, can be independent, but two, can be extremely supportive and because everything she's gone through, she's been through her own battles, so she knows exactly how to support me through mine."

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