When Egyptian siblings Mohamed and Huda Shehata broke five combined Guinness world records this week, they were excited at the prospect of some relief from the grinding poverty of their daily lives.
When the pair were 12 years old they were found to have benign tumours on their pituitary glands.
From that point on, they shot upwards to the awe of their friends, family and neigbours. Both children had to make annual trips to their local tailor who would alter their clothes to make more room for the growth – 3 to 4 centimetres each year.
"This is the first time in my life for me to feel that my condition is a positive thing," Mohamed, 34, told The National as he proudly held up the two Guinness World Record certificates he received this week. One is for the widest hand span on a living person (male) at 31.3cm, on his left hand. The other is for the widest arm span on a living person (male) – 250.3cm.
His sister, Huda, 29, broke three records of her own, one each for possessing the largest feet and hands on a living female, at 33.1cm for her right foot and 24.3cm for her left hand; and a third for the widest arm span on a living female, measuring 236.3cm.
"Around my early teens, I began to realise that I was different from the other kids around me. This was also when I began to be subjected to an obscene amount of bullying from other kids in my town," said Mohamed during an interview in his rural hometown of Al Hosaneya, in Al Sharqiyah province, 90 minutes outside Cairo.
He said that it has taken him most of his adult life to find the acceptance he needs to lead as normal a life as he can with his condition.
Mohamed towers above most other people – he is 2.10 metres tall – while Huda is only slightly shorter at 2.04m.
The siblings suffer from a rare disease called gigantism that affects men and women in equal numbers. The disorder is very rare, with only about 100 cases reported worldwide to date. A similar condition called acromegaly is more common and occurs in approximately 50 to 70 people per million.
The difference between the two conditions is that gigantism occurs when patients are pre-pubescent, while acromegaly develops in adulthood.
Both diseases are commonly caused by tumours developing in the pituitary gland that result in the continuous production of growth hormone throughout the person's life, even after they reach adulthood.
While on the surface the conditions seem innocuous, they come with a long list of structural deformities for patients that often limit movement, strength and balance.
If left untreated, both diseases increase the patient’s susceptibility to infection and metabolic disorders that significantly shorten their lifespan.
“Many people think that I am really strong or that I must be able to do a lot of manual labour, but in reality, because of growth imbalances in my bones, especially [around] my spinal cord, I have to move very slowly. I can’t bend down or lift anything too heavy,” Mohamed said as he massaged his back, which constantly bothers him.
Because of his condition he is not able to work any of the agricultural jobs that are available in his hometown. The joints in his hands are deformed too, which prevent him from obtaining work in a factory.
Without treatment, Mohamed and his sister will continue to grow, which in turn will cause more health complications. There are various treatment options but they cannot afford them.
Huda said she had learnt to live a different life from the women around her.
“I’ve learned to want other things from life. And I am lucky to have people who love and support me. Now I have a Guinness World Record too,” she said cheerfully.
While the recognition carries no financial reward, Mohamed sees a way his size might help him to earn some money.
“I think I would be good for those TV ads for mobile service providers. People are generally shocked when they see me, which I think can be an asset for an advertisement. Viewers might find it difficult to look away if I am on the screen,” he said.
He saysthat he does not mind being laughed at by TV audiences, as long as he can make a better living for himself and his family.
Mohamed and Huda's dream is to be able to ride in a car and blast their favourite songs from the stereo. But, because of their size, the pair must get around by riding in the cargo beds of pick-up trucks, which makes them even more of a spectacle.
Mohamed spoke to The National at the small farm of his childhood best friend Ahmed Mostafa, a constant companion who said he was always happy to be Mohamed's human walking stick when he needed to take a walk, a physically demanding activity for the giant.
"There is an old Egyptian proverb that says that the closer a man's height is to the ground, the meaner they are in their soul, and this couldn't be truer in the case of Mohamed and Huda," Mr Mostafa said.