LAS VEGAS (AP) — As a teenager growing up in Las Vegas, Tanya Angus strutted along fashion runways. She was 5 feet 8 inches tall.
But at the time of her death Monday, the 34-year-old Angus stood 7 feet 2 inches and weighed about 400 pounds. She was a victim of a rare disorder called acromegaly that wouldn't let her stop growing. In children the condition is known as gigantism.
"'Mom, I don't know why I got it,'" Karen Strutynski recalled her daughter saying. "'But I guess God decided that I could handle it.'"
Handle it she did — by appearing on television specials and in the news, and talking about the condition that left her face misshapen and gave her chronic growing pains.
Her condition was the result of the release of too much growth hormone caused by a non-cancerous tumor on her pituitary gland.
The disorder affected just about everything for Angus. She couldn't pull even the largest of shirts over her head, because she couldn't fit through the collar. She needed specially made shoes, and jewelers stretched her rings to size 20.
"There's nothing made for giants," her mother explained.
Some people judged her daughter, Strutynski said, believing she used a wheelchair because she lacked the discipline to keep her weight down. What they didn't know is that she ate one meal a day, and her medications caused her face to swell, her mother said.
"People were very cruel until she went into the media," Strutynski said.
After television appearances, Angus became an advocate for those with the disease, corresponding with people from some 60 countries to help them.
She saw her mission as helping others get diagnosed before it was too late and the disease got out of control, her mother said.
An autopsy is pending, but Strutynski said it appears Angus died after catching a cold and developing a tear in her heart.
Her mother plans to keep up Angus' website and continue corresponding with patients struggling to deal with the disease.
"We can't let it end. It's just too important," Strutynski said, her voice cracking. "We can't just let it die with Tanya."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.