Yao Defen, born on July 15, 1972, held the distinction of being the tallest living woman according to Guinness World Records until her passing on November 13, 2012.
She stood at an impressive height of 7 feet 8 inches and weighed 346 pounds. This remarkable gigantism was attributed to a tumor in her pituitary gland.
Yao Defen’s early life began in humble circumstances as the child of impoverished farmers in the town of Liuan, located in the Anhui province of Shucheng County. At birth, she weighed just 2.8 kilograms (6.2 pounds). Her extraordinary height became apparent at the age of eleven when she reached about 188 centimeters (6 feet 2 inches). By the time she turned fifteen, she had grown to a towering 210 centimeters (6 feet 11 inches).
Her story as a “giant woman” gained rapid recognition when, at the age of fifteen, she sought medical attention for an illness. While doctors correctly diagnosed her condition, they refrained from treatment due to the family’s inability to cover the surgery’s cost. In the years that followed, various companies made efforts to train her as a sports star, but those endeavors were abandoned as Yao’s physical condition proved too fragile. Since she was illiterate, Yao Defen earned her livelihood starting in 1992 by traveling with her father and performing.
The gigantism that resulted in Yao’s exceptional stature was a consequence of a condition called gigantism, wherein a sizable tumor in the pituitary gland of the brain triggers an excessive release of growth hormone, causing unparalleled growth. This condition differs from acromegaly because gigantism’s effects manifest before the growth plates have closed, while acromegaly’s effects occur after these growth plates have closed. Around 2002, a hospital in Guangdong successfully removed the tumor, offering her hope for a healthier future. In 2009, the TLC cable TV network dedicated an entire night’s show to her, raising her profile further. She later suffered a fall at her home, resulting in internal bleeding in the brain. Her spirits were briefly lifted during a visit from China’s tallest man, Zhang Juncai.
Yao Defen’s remarkable journey came to a close on November 13, 2012, at the age of 40, succumbing to an unspecified ailment.