Woman with gigantism seeks help from UCSF

November 5, 2010 2:10:10 AM PDT
A 31-year-old woman from Nevada is hoping doctors in San Francisco can help her with a condition countless other doctors could not. She suffers from a rare pituitary disease that is having a devastating effect on her body.

Desperation brought Tanya Angus nearly 600 miles by ambulance from Las Vegas to San Francisco, hoping that doctors at UCSF can do what nobody else has been able to -- stop her body from growing.

"I mean, it's changed my life, this acromegaly," says Angus.

At age 16, Angus was 5'8" tall and about 140 pounds. Today, she is as tall as 6'11" before her spinal cord compressed under her weight, which flexuates between 300 to 400 pounds. It is the result of a tumor related condition officially known as acromegaly.

"She is obviously a giantess," says Lewis Blevins, M.D, from UCSF.

Blevins is a neurosurgeon and an expert in the type of brain tumor that's pressuring Angus' pituitary gland, causing it to flood her body with growth hormone.

"I'm hoping that we're going to be able to normalize the biochemical indicators of her disease activity," says Blevins.

The odds are still long. In previous surgeries, doctors have been unable to completely remove the tumor responsible for her runaway growth. Her mother, Karen, is hoping a new treatment strategy will at least offer hope of controlling the symptoms.

"We know she's not going to shrink. We know that, we're being realistic, but to have a little more mobility, get this growth under control," says Karen Strufynski, Tanya's mom.

Blevin's is currently adjusting Angus' medication, while also considering an experimental drug currently being tested. He believes there's also the possibility of another surgery, using technology like the gamma knife, which delivers precisely targeted beams of radiation through the skull to remove the tumor.

"I'd like to see her be able to ambulate through her home and do those things we all do and consider part of our normal in life," says Blevins.

And as she waits for word, Angus continues her work as an advocate for early detection of acromegaly. It's often spotted first by an increase in hand size, or expansion of the feet, symptoms that sometimes go unrecognized until the condition has progressed.

"I'd known I had acromegaly five years prior, I would not have looked like this," says Angus.

Doctors at UCSF say they are able to treat the overwhelming majority of acromegaly patients they see. Angus' case will be challenging since her body has so far failed to respond to the common drug used to treat the condition.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


Load Comments