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Kindness of strangers benefits tallest man

/ Source: The Associated Press

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

But 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 recently presented him with a giant bicycle. And on Monday, he got a new car, courtesy of President Viktor Yushchenko.

"Thanks to good people I have shoes and clothes," said the 37-year-old former veterinarian, who still lives with his 66-year-old 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 that apparently stimulated the overproduction of growth hormone. Doctors say he has been growing ever since.

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.

No despair
But his fame has taught him not to despair.

A German who said he was his distant relative asked Stadnik 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 — both for the first time.

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. Company workers "sneaked into the house like little spies" to install the equipment, Stadnik joked.

Since then he has 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.

New bike, new van
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. The group also presented Stadnik with a fitness machine.

"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."

On Monday, he traveled to Kiev to get a new, shiny-blue van. Stadnik struggled to squeeze himself into the passenger's seat, his knees nearly reaching up to his face. Yushchenko then briefly took the beaming Stadnik for a drive.

Village authorities have promised to supply gas.

His neighbors joke that they may also benefit from Stadnik's success. "Of course we are proud of him — we may have gas here soon thanks to him," said the 75-year-old Nila Kravchuk.

Since he quit his job, Stadnik has concentrated on managing the family garden and caring for his three cows, his horse and assorted pigs and chickens. He lives with his mother, Halyna, and his 42-year-old sister Larysa.

Stadnik says his dream is finding a soul mate, just like the former titleholder, China's Bao Xishun, who was married last year.

"I think the future holds that for me," he said.