Tanya Angus Takes Giant Step in Uncontrolled Growth

Las Vegas woman has uncontrolled growth that may slow with heavy doses of meds.

ByABC News
May 24, 2011, 10:19 AM

May 24, 2011— -- At 6-foot 11-inches tall and 344 pounds, Tanya Angus, who has a rare disease that causes gigantism, may finally have slowed her uncontrollable growth.

The Las Vegas 32-year-old was so large that her family didn't know how they would transport her to a California hospital last October, where they hoped to find treatment. A former swimmer, she could no longer enjoy the pool because it took several people to get her in the water.

Angus had swelled to 450 pounds, but because of this new medication -- Somatuline -- she has dropped 100 pounds and her growth hormone levels have plummeted, as well.

"My heart is enlarged, everything in my body is enlarged," Angus told ABC's affiliate KTNV.

Her heart, lungs, joints and other parts of her body have also grown under the strain of this rare disease -- acromegaly.

Now, Angus is receiving a bumped-up dose of one drug, which doctors are monitoring to see if her case -- one of the worst in the world -- can help others. She is now in a brand new medical textbook for nursing students.

"They have to go above and beyond what a normal acromeglic patient would take," said her mother Karen Strutynsk.

Since then her levels of growth hormone have dropped from 1,000 to 602, according to her mother. When they reach 300, she can consider herself on maintenance.

Just recently, Angus was able to attend an acromegaly conference at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas to bring awareness to the disease.

"Sometimes yeah, I'll feel really down about it, but to me the most important thing, I have to tell, I have to tell the people," she said.

Her mother said others who suffer from the disorder say, "Tanya is our hero."

Acromegaly is a rare pituitary disorder that causes the body to produce too much growth hormone. It affects about 20,000 Americans.

"Everything gets thicker and the facial features become abnormal," said Dr. Laurence Katznelson, professor of medicine and neurosurgery at Stanford University Hospital in California and medical director if its pituitary center.

Fluid accumulates in the body, causing stress on multiple systems in the body. Patients are more prone to cardiac conditions, hypertension and diabetes.

"They are in a lot of pain because they get severe headaches and their joints can be swollen and develop premature osteoarthritis," he said. "Their mortality rate is two to four times greater than the general population."

Centuries ago, these patients would be recruited to join the circus. One well-known actor with the condition was Richard Kiel, who played the villain's henchman "Jaws" in the James Bond movies, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker."

About 95 percent of the time, the condition is caused by a non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland, according to Katznelson, who did not treat Angus. In her case, the tumor is wrapped around her carotid artery, and is inoperable.

The disease is not hereditary and happens, "sporadically," he said.