Both a Dwarf and a Giant: The Curious Case of Adam Rainer

There are many unexplored frontiers of our planet. The deep seas, the mountain peaks, and uncharted wilds of the world. Yet as much as we look out into the wilderness and beyond, some of the most intriguing mysteries out there lie within us. The human body is a wondrous place with realms that have defied understanding and cases that continue to inspire awe. There simply seems to be no limit to the surprises that the human body is able to conjure up, and one notable case is that of a man who went from being a dwarf and one of the shortest people around to one of the tallest men who ever lived within the span of his life.

In 1899, a child named Adam Rainer was born in the city of Graz, Austria. Although he was born to two normal sized people of average height, and his step-brother too was unexceptional in size, neither tall nor short, little Adam would turn out to display somewhat stunted growth. Weak and extremely small, at the age of 18 years old Adam measured a mere 4 feet 0.25 inches (122.55 cm), and was considered by the medical community to be a dwarf. So small, frail, and weak was he that he was denied entry to the Austrian military when World War I broke out, although it was noticed that he had abnormally large hands and feet for his diminutive stature. Adam would go on to try to enlist 2 years later, but he had only grown around 2 inches in height by that time and was still considered to be too small, with the absolute minimum height requirement being 4 feet 10 inches, despite his otherwise fine health. Indeed, he was still medically classified as a dwarf at this time.

Adam Rainer as a child

Something odd then occurred when Adam reached around 21 years of age. While this is the point at which most people stop growing, for him it was quite the other way around. Adam began to grow at an astonishing and astronomical rate. Over the next decade he nearly doubled in size, shooting up from just over 4 feet tall to over 7 feet tall, and he never really stopped growing. When he was examined by baffled doctors, it was found that he was suffering from a condition known as acromegaly, which entails an overproduction of growth hormone in the pituitary gland and leads to out-of-control, exaggerated growth, enlarged hands, feet, and facial features, such as a protruding jaw and brow, as well as frequently thickening of the skin. In Adam’s case it was surmised that this had been caused by a tumor developing on his pituitary gland, which had then caused a spurt of sudden and phenomenal growth.

Unfortunately for Adam, the condition also causes a plethora of health problems, including joint pain, headaches, and other serious complications. In Adam’s case, he had already developed a severe and debilitating curvature of the spine, and he was having problems just getting around. Doctors attempted an operation to resolve the issue in 1930, but this apparently had little effect, and by some accounts even seemed to make the condition worse, although it has also been claimed that the growth spurt was slowed down somewhat, albeit not fully stopped. Regardless, Adam continued to grow and his health continued to spiral downwards as his vision deteriorated to the point that his right eye became completely blind, his left ear became deaf, and his spinal curvature became so dire that he was barely able to walk or even stand, rendering him bedridden in his later years. His appetite decreased and he began to waste away even as his body continued to try and grow.

Adam Rainer

Adam Rainer would be admitted to a special hospital where he would live out the reminder of his days totally bedridden, as perplexed doctors tried to figure out just what forces were overtaking his body. Adam’s health never did take a turn for the better, he never did stop growing completely, and on March 4, 1950, he passed away at the age of 51, considered by many to be a freak of nature. At the time of his death he was claimed to be anywhere from 7 feet 8 inches (234 cm) tall to 7 feet 10 inches (239 cm) tall, and he was considered to be the tallest man in Austria and one of the tallest men who had ever lived. It was remarkable considering he had started his life so tiny, and to this day he remains the only known person in medical history to have been classified as both a dwarf and a giant over the course of a single lifetime.

There can be no doubt that for all of the far-flung unexplored places of our world some of the most baffling and compelling are the myriad mysteries that lie within the unmapped and untamed realms within our own bodies. This is a frontier we have yet to fully grasp even though we sit here in these vehicles of meat, bone, and gristle. What wonders and journeys are there still to make towards understanding our own physiology? What miracles and oddities are our own forms capable of? With cases such as that of Adam Rainer it seems that one does not have to look out over the horizon to find mystery and wonder, but rather within our own bodies, and the truly odd potential they hold.