Adam Rainer close up

Adam Rainer (1899 – 1950) was the only person in recorded history known to have had both dwarfism and gigantism, earning him the Guinness World Records title of most variable stature.

Born to average-sized parents in Graz, Austria, Adam was reportedly a healthy baby. However, as a child he was described as small, thin, and weak.

Little else is known about Adam’s early life up until 1917, when he enlisted in the army to fight in World War I. 

Aged 18 at the time, he was measured to be 122.55 cm (4 ft 0.25 in) and deemed too short to join the Austro-Hungarian Army. 

Dwarfism is typically characterised by an adult height lower than 147 cm (4 ft 10 in), with the average height among people with dwarfism being 122 cm (4 ft 0 in).

A year later, Adam tried to enlist again. Despite growing slightly, he was still too small to be accepted.

Interestingly, his hands and feet were average-sized. Adam’s shoe size was equivalent to a US 10 (EU 43; UK 9).

By age 21, most males stop growing. However, for Adam, his remarkable growth was only just beginning.

Adam Rainer standing next to a measuring ruler

His feet grew rapidly, doubling in size to a US 20 (EU 57.5; UK 19.5) in just a few years.

Over the span of decade, he grew in height at an average rate of 9.14 cm (3.16 in) per year, and by 1930, aged 31, Adam stood 216 cm (7 ft 1 in) tall.

His extreme growth spurt seemed inexplicable. In addition to his spine beginning to curve, his facial features had also enlarged.

In an effort to understand Adam’s abnormal growth, two doctors studied him over the course of several months, between August 1930 and May 1931.

Based on their examinations, Dr Mandl and Dr Windholz concluded that Adam suffered from acromegaly, caused by a benign pituitary tumour.

Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that results in excess growth of certain parts of the human body. If left unchecked, the condition can prove fatal.

It is usually caused by a tumour on the brain’s pituitary gland, as was the case with Sultan Kösen (Türkiye), the world’s tallest living man.

In childhood, this leads to increased height and is called gigantism – in Sultan’s case, he was 10 when he began growing rapidly.

Usually, in adulthood, a change in height doesn't occur, and growth is generally limited to bones in the hands, feet, and face.

Several symptoms of acromegaly were evident in Adam, such as the enlargement of his hands and feet, however, he also massively grew in height.

Regardless of whether the acromegaly diagnosis was entirely correct, the doctors agreed that the tumour should be removed in order to halt the excess production of growth hormone and the worsening curvature of Adam’s spine.

Back then, a surgical procedure such as this was extremely risky. This was the same time period that the tallest man ever, Robert Wadlow (USA; 1918 – 1940) was dissuaded by doctors from getting surgery on his pituitary gland. The risk of death was deemed too high.

Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever (colourised)

Despite scepticism on whether Adam’s tumour could be safely removed, the surgery was successfully performed by Dr Oscar Hirsch.

When Adam was examined a few months later, doctors discovered that although he hadn’t grown any taller, his spine had curved even more severely. Adam’s growth had slowed, but it hadn’t stopped.

He also developed further health complications, as is common amongst people with acromegaly. Adam lost all vision in his right eye, lost hearing in his left ear, and suffered frequent strong headaches.

Eventually, due to his continued spinal curvature, Adam became bedridden, unable to stand or walk. 

He was admitted to a care home where he lived out the remainder of his days, passing away aged 51 on 4 March 1950.

Astonishingly, he was measured to be 234 cm (7 ft 8 in), which meant he had continued to grow since his surgery.

From being refused entry into the army due to his short stature, to then being rendered immobile due to his extreme growth, Adam Rainer’s story is a tragic one.

However, as one of the first people to undergo pituitary gland surgery, Adam was of immense value to the medical field and the study of gigantism.

Without pioneering doctors such as Mandl, Windholz, and Hirsch, in addition to subjects such as Adam, we may not be in the position we are today, whereby problematic pituitary glands can be easily fixed, and people like Sultan Kösen can live happy, healthy lives.

Thus, Adam Rainer’s life was an extremely important one, and his legacy will not be forgotten any time soon.

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