Real-Life Incredible Hulk

Aug. 10, 2006 — -- Here's the case: Larry Hatch, a 57-year-old carpenter from Texas, awoke in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.

"I felt my hair and my body and my pajamas and they were soaking wet. And I looked over at Cheryl sound asleep by my side. I didn't know who she was," Hatch said.

"I thought at first he had just been in a deep sleep, coming out of a dream and maybe a bit confused," said Cheryl Hatch, Larry's wife.

About three or four days later, the same thing happened again.

Cheryl, a nurse, was monitoring her husband's condition. "I just had a suspicion that possibly this was the onset of diabetes."

But before Larry went to the doctor about it, he had another frightening episode while he was visiting his friend, Jack Morgan.

Morgan remembers that visit. "As we were talking, Larry was acting kind of like he was out of it. His ears were kind of red. He looked a little red in the face 'cause he kept rubbing his face."

"The way he was acting, I felt maybe he had a clogged artery or something and he was just gonna fall out on the floor in a heart attack."

Morgan called 911. After he made that phone call, Larry passed out.

"When the paramedics arrived and came in, I still, in the back of my mind, was thinking this may be related to diabetes. So I asked them to check his blood sugar," Cheryl said.

Larry's blood sugar was 31; the average person's blood sugar is around 70.

Larry went to his family doctor who told him that he had low-blood sugar and was hypoglycemic.

But Cheryl was beginning to see other changes in Larry. "I began to notice that Larry's nose was beginning to enlarge. His tongue became thicker, so he was actually speaking with a little bit of a lisp. His hands seemed like they were clubbing and getting thicker."

Weeks later, Cheryl noticed that even more bizarre things were happening to her husband. "Larry's hair was growing so fast that we were giving him a haircut about every two weeks. I cut his fingernails and his toenails about every two weeks. And his face just seemed like it was getting these huge, deep wrinkles."

Larry noticed he had hair and bumps all over his body. "My body had started to change. My nose had started to grow, my ears were growing. My eyes were swelling and almost to the extent of closing. I had wrinkles the size of my finger."

Larry says when he looked in the mirror, he didn't even recognize himself.

Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, was one of the surgeons on Larry's case. "The best visual I can bring is the movie, 'The Incredible Hulk.' That's exactly the way he looked."

As Larry's symptoms worsened by the day, doctors performed a series of tests in search of a cause. They included X-rays and a CAT-scan of his chest.

"After the CAT-scan, they came back into the room and they said, 'We have found a tumor in your lung -- probably the size of your wife's head," Larry said.

Zwischenberger says he's never seen a tumor as big as Larry's. "It was astonishing. I mean it was a huge tumor which occupied the entire left chest."

Zwischenberger discussed the need for surgery with Larry. Although Larry knew there was a good possibility he wouldn't survive, he told the doctor to "go for it."

Surviving Surgery

According to Zwischenberger, the tumor weighed about six or seven pounds. "When we removed it, it was about the size of a soccer ball or a newborn baby.

"In this particular case, a tumor went wild and over-produced this one unusual hormone which is an insulin-like growth hormone," Zwischenberger said.

That's why Larry's symptoms appeared like he had taken an excessive amount of growth hormone.

"When they removed the tumor, my blood sugar within two days or so... was back to normal," Larry said.

"After the surgery, his nail growth slowed down. His hair growth slowed. It was almost as if I could see the facial features relaxing and his nose beginning to shrink a little bit," Cheryl said.

Zwischenberger recalls the dramatic physical change Larry experienced after the surgery. "It felt like we were in a movie because he changed so dramatically. He went from looking like the 'Incredible Hulk' to a normal guy."

"Doctors thought it was a miracle," Larry said. "Doctors told us that medically speaking, I was dead. The fact that I had all these things wrong with me and they were so rare. They said, 'You're just a miracle. You're just a miracle.'"