During one of his recent check-ups, a local hospital in northern Ghana informed 29-year-old Sulemana Abdul Samed that he had reached the height of 9 ft 6in (2.89m).
This would make him the tallest man on the planet, but there was a catch: the rural clinic couldn’t be sure of his height because it lacked the necessary measuring equipment.
The young man, who was diagnosed with gigantism a few years ago, was at a monthly appointment to deal with the complications of living as a giant when he was asked to stand straight against a measuring rod.
“You’ve grown taller than the scale,” a shocked nurse told him.
He was amused by the spectacle he was causing and went by the nickname Awuche, which means “Let’s Go” in Hausa.
He wasn’t surprised to learn he was taller – he’s never stopped growing – but it surprised the staff, who weren’t prepared for such a scenario.
The duty nurse summoned her colleague, who summoned another for assistance. Soon, a group of nurses and health assistants gathered to solve the mystery of his height.
One of them suggested they find a pole and use it as an extension above their stick to measure his height, which is how they arrived at their estimate.
I didn’t have a measuring tape with me when I first met Awuche a few months ago while traveling in northern Ghana, where his fame had spread across the grasslands.
So, armed with a 16-foot measuring tape, I returned to the village of Gambaga last week to settle the matter.
The plan was for him to lean against a wall, mark it with the crown of his head, and then measure his height with a measuring tape.
“I can’t say everything is perfect the way they measure me,” Awuche admitted, pleased with my plan to get an exact measurement.
He turned out to be taller than most of the houses in his neighborhood, but after a thorough search, we were able to locate a suitable structure with a high enough wall.
He removed his shoes, which were large slip-ons made from car tyres and nailed together for him by a local handyman because he couldn’t find shoes that fit him.
One of his neighbors climbed a wooden stool to reach Awuche’s height and mark the wall with a piece of charcoal.
After double-checking the line, we stretched the measuring tape firmly from the marked line to the ground, while Awuche watched in anticipation.
“Awuche, the tape measures 7ft 4in,” I said.
“Wow, so what does it mean?” he replied, his trademark smile on his face.
“Well, the tallest man alive stands at 8ft 2.8in, just one foot taller than you.”
I was referring to Sultan Kösen, a 40-year-old Turkish man who currently holds the Guinness World Record.
“I’m still growing in stature. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll reach that height as well “Awuche remarked, unconcerned about the disparity between the figure given to him by the hospital.
“Every three or four months, I grow… If you haven’t seen me in three or four months and then see me, you’ll notice I’ve grown “He elaborates.
This increase in height became noticeable when he was 22 years old and living in Accra, Ghana’s capital.
Awuche had moved there after finishing secondary school to try his luck in the city, where one of his brothers lived.
He was working at a butcher shop to save money for driving lessons at a driving school.
But one morning, he awoke confused: “I realized my tongue had expanded in my mouth to the point where I couldn’t breathe [properly],” he recalls.
He went to a local pharmacy to get some medication, but a few days later he noticed that every other part of his body had begun to grow in size.
When family and friends from his village visited the city, they all commented on his rapid growth, and it was at this point that he realized he was slowly turning into a giant.
He began to tower over everyone, and he sought medical attention as his growth caused additional complications.
He has an abnormally curved spine, which is one of the most visible symptoms of his condition, Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the body’s connective tissues.
It causes abnormally long limbs.
Heart defects are more serious complications.
Doctors believe he needs a brain surgery to stop the growth.
However, Ghana’s public healthcare insurance does not cover this, only covering basic treatment.
He still needs to raise about $50 (£40) for each hospital visit.
His health issues eventually forced him to return to his hometown six years ago and abandon his ambitions to become a driver.
“I was going to attend driving school, but even with the seat back, I can’t hold the steering wheel… I can’t stretch my leg because my knee will collide with the steering wheel.”
He now lives with his brother and makes ends meet by running a small business selling mobile phone credits.
His social life has also been hampered by his height.
“I used to play football like any other young man, I was athletic, but now I can barely walk short distances,” he explained.
Celebrity in the community
But Awuche is not deterred by his problems. As his tall slim frame weaves through the dusty paths of the village, he is full of soul, smiling as people call out to him.
He’s a kind of local celebrity.
A group of elderly people sitting by a shed exchange pleasantries, children wave, and some women approach him for a hug and jokes.
Some people want to take selfies with him, and strangers approach him to see if he is the giant they saw on social media.
“I usually say, ‘Yes, come closer,’ and we stand there and take nice pictures,” Awuche explains.
He is especially grateful to his family for their emotional support, stating that he is unaware of any other relatives, including his three brothers, who have his condition.
“None of them are particularly tall; I am simply the tallest man.”
He would like to marry and have children one day, but first he wants to focus on his health.
His first priority is to raise funds for plastic surgery to treat a serious skin condition on one leg, ankle, and foot caused by limb growth.
But, despite his bandaged toes, Awuche refuses to be discouraged by his situation.
“That is how Allah chose it for me, and I am fine with it. I have no objections to the way God created me.”
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