Sultan Kosen has been named the world's tallest living man by Guinness World Records for three consecutive years. In the last three months, the 29-year-old Turkish man has only recently stopped growing thanks to receiving treatment in the U.S.
He entered the record books at 8 feet 1 inch; at his next measurement, he was listed as 8 feet 2 inches, and now he's achieved his ultimate adult height at 8 feet 3 inches. He's also in the record books for having the largest hands (11.22 inches) and largest feet (14.4 inches).
Kosen's extraordinary stature is a result of gigantism or acromegaly. He developed a pituitary tumor as a child, which caused his pituitary gland to produce an excessive amount of growth hormone. According to Dr. Mary Lee Vance, an endocrinologist at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Va, “That tumor is not cancerous and it is not a brain tumor… A spontaneous mutation causes the tumor, and it's not hereditary.” She added that Kosen's parents and siblings are all average height. Vance first learned of Kosen's case and first saw him as a patient in the spring of 2010.
Vance was asked to appear on a Discovery Channel show on him. She put Kosen on a new medication to try to bring down his growth hormone levels to a normal range. Although his pituitary tumor was diagnosed when Kosen was 10 years old, efforts in his native Turkey and elsewhere in Europe to stop the tumor's growth were unsuccessful. He had three prior surgeries attempting to remove the tumor as well as radiation treatment, but Kosen kept growing and growing.
“As he was growing taller and taller, he kept getting sicker and sicker,” says Dr. Jason Sheehan, a neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia Health System, who also treated Kosen. “He had a very aggressive tumor involving the base of his skull and brain that was in a very difficult location to remove,” he explains.
In addition there were other health problems. “The human body and heart is not well designed for a person who is 8 (feet) tall,” points out Sheehan. As a result, Kosen's skeletal frame was so big that his joints, bones and muscles were weak in relation to his height. He has joint problems and can't walk without crutches. He had visual problems because the pituitary tumor got so big it was pressing on the nerves of his eyes.
In August of 2010, Dr. Sheehan performed gamma knife radio surgery. This procedure uses focused beams of gamma rays, which deliver high-energy radiation, and is guided by MRI to targeted points in Kosen's brain. But the gamma knife surgery is not an instant fix, points out Sheehan, and “it takes one to two years for the full effects of surgery to be realized.”
Just three months ago, Dr. Vance and Dr. Sheehan learned that Kosen's height had finally stabilized and he had stopped growing. The tumor has also stopped growing as has the overproduction of growth hormone. “I'm most pleased that we were able to help Sultan,” Sheehan said in a statement. “If he had continued to grow, it would have been life-threatening.”
Agromegaly occurs in about 6 out of every 100,000 adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Besides medication, doctors will try to surgically remove the tumor if possible, which usually corrects the abnormal hormone release.