LAS VEGAS (CBS News)-- As a teenager growing up in Las Vegas, Tanya Angus strutted along fashion runways. She was 5 feet 8 inches, and people told her she had a perfect body.
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 - or gigantism - that wouldn't let her stop growing.
"'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, by being vulnerable about a condition that left her face misshapen and gave her chronic growing pains.
Acromegaly is a disorder in which there is too much growth hormone in the body. It's spurred by a non-cancerous tumor that grows on the pituitary gland, and causes growth of bones and organs.
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.
"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 get the treatment they needed.
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 big 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."
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