Strangers help world's tallest man

Local organizations and foreigners have given the 8-foot, 5-inch man everything from meals to a giant bicycle.

Tall bike: In Podolyantsi, Ukranian Leonid Stadnik rides a new donated bicycle.

Leonid Stadnik's phenomenal height has forced him to quit a job he loved and to stoop as he moves around his house.

But Mr. Stadnik, who Guinness World Records says is the world's tallest human, says his condition has also taught him that there are many kindhearted strangers.

Since his recognition by Ukrainian record keepers four years ago, and by Guinness last year, people from all over Ukraine and the world have sent him outsized clothing, provided his home with running water, and presented him with a giant bicycle. This week, he got a new car, courtesy of President Viktor Yushchenko.

"Thanks to good people I have shoes and clothes," said the former veterinarian, who still lives with his mother.

In 2006, Stadnik was officially measured at 8 feet, 5 inches tall, surpassing a 7-foot-9-inch Chinese man to claim the title of the world's tallest person.

His growth spurt began at age 14 after a brain operation apparently stimulated the overproduction of growth hormone.

While his size is intimidating, Stadnik charms visitors with a broad grin and childlike laugh. He seems at times like a lonely boy trapped in a giant's body, even keeping stuffed toys on his pillow.

Stadnik's stature has brought attention, but he struggles to lead a normal life.

All the doorways in his one-story brick house are too short for him to pass through without stooping. His 440 pounds cause constant knee pain and often force him to use crutches.

Stadnik loves animals, but had to quit his job as a veterinarian at a cattle farm after suffering frostbite when he walked to work in his socks in winter. He could not afford custom-made shoes for his 17-inch feet.

But his fame has taught him not to despair. A German who said he was his distant relative asked Stadnik to come for a visit several years ago. On the trip, Stadnik got to sample frog legs in an elegant restaurant and saw a roller coaster at an amusement park.

Shortly afterward, Stadnik came home one day and saw a new computer connected to the Web sitting on his desk – a gift from a local Internet provider.

He has since made many online friends, including several in the United States, Australia, and Russia. Stadnik hopes to learn English so he can communicate better with his Anglophone contacts; currently, he relies on computer translations, which he says are often inadequate.

On Sunday, an organization for the disabled in his home village of Podolyantsi, 125 miles west of Kiev, gave Stadnik a giant bike so he can ride to the grocery store in a nearby village.

"I have always dreamt that my life and the life of my loved ones ... would become more comfortable," Stadnik said. "My dream is coming true."

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