Monday, August 11, 2008

World's Tallest Living Man

Last night I wasn't tired enough to go to sleep, so I stayed up watching TLC after the Olympics broadcast was over. After watching The One Ton Man (who now weighs under 500 lbs.), The World's Tallest Man started. I was intrigued. Leonid Stadnyk is from Ukriane and he is 8 feet 5.5 inches tall. The reason that he became this tall was due to a condition called acromegalic gigantism. It is caused by a tumor on his pituitary gland that stimulated the over-production of the growth hormone, which triggered his bones and soft tissue to continue growing past the level which is normal for humans. The condition can be very serious if left untreated. A risky brain surgery can be done to remove the tumor, but if the surgery is not performed, patients will keep growing until their joints give out and the circulatory system cannot keep up with the demands such a large body is placing on it. Besides the awkwardness of living in a world that seems too small for you, and the pain from stress on the joints, early death is a factor that many people with the disease have to face.

Especially because he lives in a very remote town in Ukraine, Leonid has not received the medical treatment that is available in other parts of the world. He has avoided going to the doctor because 1) he hates being around lots of people in cities, and 2) he is afraid to hear the news doctors might tell him. He'd rather live his simple life in the country, taking care of his mother and tending to the family's plot of land. When asked about why he hadn't contacted the folks at Guinness to get in the record books, he said that people who achieve something great, those who accomplish a feat, should be recognized for their efforts. He said he didn't do anything to become this tall. This is just how God made him. So, "maybe it should be God who is in the record book," he says. What a humble perspective.

Throughout the episode, a British doctor who specializes in pituitary gigantism was featured. Professor Michael Besser wanted to help assess the medical situation of this man who was so far away from modern medicine. After doing a physical examination of Leonid, and after reviewing his medical records (including a somewhat recent MRI scan), the specialist found to his surprise that the brain tumor which had haunted Leonid for more than 20 years had naturally died off -- saving Leonid's life and finally halting his extraordinary growth spurt. He was stunned and could not figure out how it happened without medical intervention. As he explained the good news to Leonid, the doctor said, "You made the tumor go away. You healed yourself." Leonid interrupted him and said, "I didn't do anything. I didn't heal myself." He paused for a moment and looked away from the camera. When he looked back he said something to the effect of, "I prayed every day for God to make me well. I used to think that God was punishing me by doing this to me, but now I know that God heard me and helped me. I didn't heal myself. God healed me." The doctor smiled and responded with a simple, "That is nice."

Why is it that, when a man of science is confronted with something that he can only describe as a medical miracle, he cannot consider the idea that prayer and God's healing power just maybe could have something to do with the mystery cure? I wonder...

I was touched by this gentle giant's story. At the end of the episode, I was glad to know that he continued living, not in fear of what the future might bring, but in gratitude for the new lease on life he was given as a result of the doctor's analysis.

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