Astounding Medical Mysteries
Brenden is just 12 years old and already stands at 7'3" tall. He is a full 2 feet taller than the average kid in his seventh-grade class—but he doesn't want to be treated any differently. "I wish people would see that I'm just a normal person and that I hang out with my friends just like anybody else," Brenden says.
Living in an average-size world becomes more complicated at Brenden's level. His home had to be custom designed to fit Brenden's tall stature, including 8-foot-tall door frames and a bed that is 2.5 feet longer than a regular bed. Although he's constantly ducking wherever he goes, Brenden says he accepts his life the way it is. "I love the way I am," he says. "I couldn't see myself any different."
"By the time Brenden was in kindergarten, he was the size of the fifth-grade students in school," Debbie says. At 7 years old, Brenden was already 5'4"—and doctors had no idea why.
Dr. Oz brings out a skeleton to compare the size of an average femur bone with the size of Brenden's femur. Besides his bones being much larger, Brenden has other visible signs of growth. "As you can see, Brenden's eyelids are so overgrown they cover half his eyes," Dr. Oz says. "He also had 12 extra teeth, which made his jaw larger."
After eight long years and test after test, doctors finally made a breakthrough. "A bone marrow test revealed that Brenden's excessive growth started in utero when one of his chromosomes broke off, flipped around and reattached," Dr. Oz says. "They say the odds of this happening are billions to one."
Finally, doctors were able to find a solution to Brenden's never-ending growth. "They induced your body into puberty by giving you testosterone," Dr. Oz says. "It was a very smart idea by them." It's worked so far—Brenden says he hasn't grown in the past six months. "You're not just a miracle because of your spirit—you're a miracle because you're alive," Dr. Oz says. "It's similar to flying a plane and the wing breaking off and then reconnecting upside down and you're still being able to stay on flight."
Someone who can relate is basketball giant Shaquille O'Neal, who Brenden says is one of his heroes. "That's because I can look at him at eye level," Brenden jokes. After hearing Brenden's story, Shaq sent a gigantic gift for Brenden—a pair of his massive basketball shoes!
Along with the shoes, Shaq joins via satellite to tell Brenden about a few more surprises, starting with a flight to Phoenix for a Suns basketball game and hang time. "We'll ride around, ride in the car, go shopping, go to the mall. We'll just have fun because I'm 12 years old also," he jokes.
As someone who understands the challenges of being tall, Shaq wants to give Brenden another gift. "I have a tailor, and he's going to make you a lot of outfits, and I have a lot of stuff that I'm going to send to you," Shaq says. "You can now consider me your best friend. I've gotcha, baby."
When Shaq was Brenden's age, he says his height came with shyness. "But once I got to the age of 16 and 17 years old, I just said to myself, 'Be sexy. Shoulders up. Head high.' So that's my advice to you, Brenden. Just be tall. Be beautiful."
Kristin was born full-term weighing just 2 pounds, 11 ounces and 15 inches long—75 percent smaller than the average baby. Doctors suspected Kristin had a rare form of dwarfism, but most dwarfs have normal-size torsos and heads with shorter limbs and bowed legs. In Kristin's case, everything was proportionate—just very tiny.
When she was 8 years old and just 2'9" tall, doctors finally diagnosed Kristin with primordial dwarfism—a disorder she shares with only 100 people in the world.
Simple tasks, like doing the laundry, can become a big job for a little person. "A lot of people don't really think about laundry, but for other people, it can be hard and challenging," Kristin says. "The world is made for big people, not for short-stature people. So we just want people to understand our situation."
Just like other 26-year-olds, Kristin loves to shop. "I get clothes from all over," she says. "We have to look around, but they're there." Kristin says buying clothes in children's sizes doesn't bother her. "As long as they look grown up," she says.
Kristin may be a medical miracle, but she says she doesn't want to be treated differently. "I do have hopes and dreams for myself, just like everybody else," she says. "I mean, everybody has feelings. Everybody has problems. I'm like everybody else."
Although Kristin's brain is just a fraction of the size of an average brain, she is no less intelligent. "How is that possible?" Dr. Oz says. "It challenges all of our thinking about how we work. How can you get 100 billion neurons into your brain just like a larger brain? That's the subtlety of the human body. That's why we learn so much."
Dr. Oz brings out a replica of Kristin and Brenden's femur bones along with an average-size femur bone. "So if you compare them, there's huge differences," Dr. Oz says. "The fact that all three of these could exist together is, to me, a miracle in itself."
"That's the miracle of life," Oprah says. "How we're all alike but different."
Oprah tests her with a few days chosen at random.
December 8, 1980: "John Lennon killed," Jill says. "I was in the 10th grade. It was a Monday, and I was actually doing my homework when I heard Howard Cosell announce it on the radio or on the TV. So my actual first thought of it was that somebody had come into his house and killed him there. I didn't know he was downstairs. I have the memory, but then I have the added my life around it too."
June 17, 1994: "The O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. Friday," she says. "And the basketball game was going on also—one of the Finals games."
Jill says her first memory is from when she was 18 months old—when her uncle's dog came into her room and woke her up. She remembers specific events from the early years of her life, but at age 14, Jill says something "snapped."
"It's not that anything happened on February 5, 1980, but that's the day. Everything after that is just very vivid," she says. "Prior to that, I could tell you a million things, but it's every single day since that day."
"I was sitting and studying for a science final, and my mom was reading my science work. I started thinking about the year before, when I was in sixth grade, and how great sixth grade was—because I was now at the end of seventh grade and doing finals and I was under a lot of stress," she says. "I was thinking about the year before and how I was on a field trip on this day and I was doing this on this day and then it dawned on me: Oh my God, I just remembered a year ago today."
Jill says she even asked around to see if other people had similar experiences. "Two months later, I was with a friend of mine on the beach and I said, 'Do you realize a year ago today we did the same exact thing?' And she looked at me and said no," Jill says. "That was the first time I ever said anything to anybody about it—on July 1."
Despite her memorable memory, Jill says it didn't really help her in school. "Absolutely not. It was tormenting to me because I don't memorize, I just know it," she says. "I had a terrible time in school memorizing plays or memorizing poems. Unless I was interested in a class, it didn't catch me."
One thing that did catch Jill's attention is television. She says she remembers every episode of classic shows like All in the Family...and Jill says she even has memories about The Oprah Winfrey Show. "Like your first week. I was ironing and your show was on gossipers, office gossipers," she says. "And there was one guy who stood up and you just gave him a what-for."
Graphic: National Geographic Online
While others have since been diagnosed with the condition called hypothyemezia, Dr. Oz says Jill was the first. "I have my own syndrome," she says.
How do we store memories? Dr. Oz says it starts in the amygdala, part of the reptilian brain—the oldest part of the human brain, a remnant of our evolutionary history. "Reptiles are just responsive; they're instinctual beings. Humans, theoretically—not all of us do it all the time—we're supposed to use the outer part of the brain to temper what we do."
Because of the structure of the amygdala, this part of the brain has us constantly in a natural state of anxiety. "The amygdala is the brain's fire alarm. It's just shooting out messages all the time: 'Hey, watch out! Look left! Look right! Not good! Don't trust! Evil! Good!' All of those messages are being shot up to your head."
Then, the middle parts of the reptilian brain integrate that initial reaction to attempt to make sense of what you just figured out through sensation—creating a memory. "If there's something bad happening, you want to remember it so you don't get in that situation again," Dr. Oz says.
"I want to be able to survive in society and have my friends and live a normal life, which I do," she says. "But I walk around with an open chest, raw all the time, and I have to act accordingly."
"But the real question in my mind—I wonder if all of us have memories we can't access or if you're able to store more memories than any of us can," Dr. Oz tells Jill. "I've never met anyone like you or heard of anyone like you."
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