For Tiffanie Didonato, nearly everything in the world was out of reach. Things others may take for granted, like flipping a light switch, revving a gas pedal or tackling bathroom basics, Didonato couldn't do without aid.
That's because the 27-year-old was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a type of dwarfism. The condition left her with abnormally short arms and legs. By age 15, Didonato was only three-and-a-half feet tall.
"Kids were growing up a lot quicker. They were taller. It was easier to hold their book bags and walk down the hall, and I was basically the size of my book bag," she said.
A Life Changing Decision
A confrontation with a teacher when she was 15 led her to make a life-altering decision.
"She pulled me in the middle of the classroom, sat me on egg crates and said, 'I don't know what kind of disease you have, but obviously you're a dwarf. Why don't you tell me what you can and can't do?' I've never heard the word dwarf be called to me before in my life," Didonato said.
The interaction was etched in her brain and, shortly afterward, Didonato decided to adapt to life, since life didn't adapt to her.
She sought to have a controversial surgery to painfully and painstakingly lengthen her arms and legs, not by the recommended four inches but a whopping 10.
The Little People of America organization doesn't approve of the surgery because it sends the message that there is something wrong with being a little person.
"Most members of the dwarf community believe that no child should undergo surgery unless it is for a treatable medical condition that will improve her or his health. Limb-lengthing surgery, by contrast, does not address any medical condition," the group said in a statement to "Good Morning America."
Didonato's view, though, is, "I don't judge you, please don't judge me."
"I didn't go through plastic surgery because I didn't like my face or something like that. I went through it for independence and that's the main goal," she said. "I was thinking ahead into the future. I wanted to get married. I wanted to drive. "
Didonato turned to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Errol Mortimer for help.
"I did have reluctance, but Tiffanie absolutely wanted to get this done as effectively and quickly as possible," Mortimer said.
How It WorksThe bone-lengthening procedure works by taking advantage of the body's natural ability to heal itself. During surgery, the bone is broken and then slowly stretched one millimeter per day over several grueling months.
"Through very small incisions, we insert the screws — two above and two below — the place where we cut the bone," Mortimer said. "The bone slowly gets pulled apart and as it gets pulled apart the body fills in the gap that is created and ultimately that gap is filled with normal bone."
During months of recovery, Didonato took solace in writing and visually the things she'd finally be able to do. After 12 surgeries on shins, thighs and arms, Didonato gained 14 inches.
That took her 3-foot-6-inch frame to 4-feet-10-inches.
Didonato was enthused.
"I remember saying to myself, 'This is going to be the first day of the rest of my life,'" she said. "I'm going to free. I'm going to be independent."
Now simple chores that caused her so much hassle are much easier. Things like making coffee and emptying the trash bring her joy.
And when she got married over the weekend, the bride was able to stand tall as she made her way down the aisle to her prince, two-time Iraq War veteran Eric Gabrielse.
"I think what she did goes above and beyond any of the physical or mental stuff I've done," said Gabrielse, who met his future wife three years ago as a pen pal. "She dealt with it her all her life and handled it all so amazingly. I'm so proud of her."
And now Didonato has her happily ever after.