Gigantism Advocate, Tanya Angus, Dies at 34

Photo: Snapshot/ABC News.

Once an enviable 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, Tanya Angus was a beautiful, 21-year-old woman who rode horses and enjoyed the everyday pleasures of a happy young adulthood. But then she began noticing changes in her body and the fit of her clothes; by the age of 22 she had shot up an extra three inches.

Doctors diagnosed Angus with acromegaly, or, gigantism. She went on to develop one of the worst cases of the disease in the world. Through her pain and struggles, she became an inspiration to many others with the disease — yet no amount of spirit was able to save her from the deleterious nature of her case. Angus died on Jan. 14, at the age of 34, due to her “heart and TIA (transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke)," according to her website. By the time of her death, she had grown to be more than 7 feet tall and weighed 400 pounds.

Gigantism, which affects about 20,000 Americans, is defined as abnormally large growth due to an excess of growth hormone. About 95 percent of the time, too much growth hormone release is caused by a noncancerous tumor of the pituitary gland.

Tragically for Angus, the tumor was wrapped around her carotid artery and was inoperable. She underwent radiation and three surgeries, but to little good. One operation that lasted for 13 hours nearly killed her, and another caused a stroke that significantly affected her hearing.

Gigantism can be a painful disease; fluid accumulates in the body causing stress on multiple systems and leaving sufferers prone to cardiac conditions, hypertension and diabetes. Headaches and joint pain or premature osteoarthritis are common, and the mortality rate is two to four times that of the general population, according to medical advisers to the Acromegaly Community, the advocacy group that Angus inspired.

"Her tremendous love of our community could only be matched by her generosity of spirit," said Wayne Brown, founder of the Acromegaly Community. "No matter how tired or sick she was, you could always count on Tanya for a smile and a hug that was guaranteed to raise your spirits."

Angus had grown so much that she was nearly immobilized and suffered great pain. Floating in a saltwater swimming pool was her only relief. Perhaps knowing what a beacon she had become eased her emotionally.

"Tanya's infectious laugh brightened up a room, simply by her presence. She always had time to say hi to one more person, even when she was too tired to do so," Brown said. "She was a hero to people around the world, simply because of her bravery and class, as she faced so many unknowns."

Over the past year, Angus has been treated with a new drug that had finally helped regulate her growth hormone levels, albeit too late. You can see her in the video below.

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