Prescription drugs can help people with idiopathic short stature become taller

Treatment involves growth hormone injections

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (WXYZ) - Some people with a specific medical condition can qualify for a growth hormone to help them become taller.

“They say the advantage is taller.  Taller means happier,” said pediatric endocrinologist Angela Lennon from University of Kansas Hospital.

“I’m here to help people with health problems – not ‘I just want to be taller.’”

Lennon helps people like 13-year-old Angela Shilling.

It’s a miracle, it is a miracle,” said Paulette Shilling, remarking on her daughter’s growth.

Seven years ago, Angela Shilling’s parents -- Stan and Paulette -- started to notice their little girl was truly little. She was by far the shortest student in her class.

”She was just over forty pounds,” said Stan Shilling.

An endocrinologist told them Angela had a growth hormone deficiency.

She was only expected to ever grow to 4-feet-seven-inches tall.

“I was just really concerned that if she didn’t have this treatment that she would go through life just feeling that she didn’t fit in,” said Paulette Shilling.

That treatment involves growth hormone injections.  She’ll take the treatment every day for years.

It was not an easy decision.

“Is this the way God would want her to be and that we might be messing with that,” recalled Paulette.

The possible difficulties of a life well under five-feet tall helped them decide.

"She'd have to have a modified car when she drove,” explained Paulette.

But Lennon said not everyone who asks her for the drug has a medical condition.

"A lot of people just want it cosmetic, pure cosmetic,” said Lennon.

Then in 2003, the FDA began allowing growth hormone treatment for people with idiopathic short stature - meaning they're perfectly healthy -- just short.

“It was the idiopathic short stature that opened the flood gate,” said Lennon.

Lennon said the average woman is 5-foot-5, and the average man is 5-foot-9.

But if you are a woman expected to be no taller than 4-foot-11 or a man no taller than 5-foot-3, you can qualify for growth hormone treatment.

It’s causing a debate in the medical community and a rush even Lennon has seen from families wanting to push the limits.

More people come like “I'll just pay for it,' and then they get the price, and they're like 'oh, okay.’

Without insurance, the drugs can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. That keeps most people who don't need it at bay.  But even if a family had the means, I would not treat that.  That’s my ethical obligation,” said Lennon.

Angela's case was never about vanity, and the Shillings say it was well worth it.

Angela is now almost 5-foot-2.

“I can grow to be just like all the other kids, and I can just get on with my life and be normal,” said Angela.

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