the biggest legs in the world

The documentary series exploring remarkable stories of human experience returns for a new run.

This film profiles Mandy Sellars, a woman with a bizarre condition that has left her with legs four times larger than those of the average person. With her health under threat and her lifestyle impeded, Mandy travels to America in search of medical help. Mandy Sellars is a confident, lively 33-year-old woman saddled with a strange and bewildering condition. Mandy has legs four times the normal size. She weighs 20 stone – 15 of which are her legs. One leg is five inches shorter than the other and she has a club foot that has turned backwards 180 degrees.

Doctors believe Mandy has an extreme form of Proteus syndrome, a rare disease most commonly associated with Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’. Proteus syndrome manifests itself in abnormal growths of skin and bone, along with an array of other symptoms. Yet no one has ever reached a definite diagnosis and Mandy’s deformity has never been fully investigated. Mandy’s problems were first evident at birth. As a baby she had unusually large legs and feet and was not expected to live more than three weeks. Against the odds, Mandy survived and enjoyed a relatively normal childhood, despite her physical impairment. But when she reached adulthood, her body stopped growing while her legs continued to develop.

Although it requires massive effort and entails extreme discomfort, Mandy can still get around with the help of crutches. She remains fiercely independent and has qualified as a counsellor with a degree in psychology. However, a time will come when she can no longer maintain her current lifestyle. She is suffering from scoliosis of the spine and her heart is working overtime. Voluntary amputation of her oversized limbs seems to be the only course open to her, but first she plans to visit the USA to see if experts there can offer any alternative solutions.

The journey to the States is a difficult and painful operation, as no airline can comfortably accommodate Mandy’s legs. Once in America, she meets with world-renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr William Ertl and prosthetic whizz kid Kevin Carroll. Ertl and Carroll have worked together on a number of challenging cases and Carroll famously provided a prosthetic tail for a dolphin. Can these two experts in their fields provide a way forward?

Elsewhere, Mandy meets another woman who had a similar condition and underwent voluntary amputation on one of her legs. She also visits an athletics meeting where all the competitors are amputees. The experience gives her food for thought as she ponders the prospect of life without legs. Although Mandy is determined not to remove her legs by choice, she knows that her health issues could make the decision inevitable. How long should she wait?

Back in the UK, Mandy receives a welcome boost with the news that a doctor is willing to take on her case and continue the search for a diagnosis. Dr Susan Huson is convinced that Mandy has a genetic or ‘mosaic’ condition, which may be unique to her. If proven, it could mean that one day Mandy will have her name in the medical books. But can any diagnosis make a practical difference to her day-to-day life?

About the author

  • Martin Cruz

    I really think Mandy is a brave woman! Why this things happen, that’s hard to say, but she’s not alone and I am sure there are people out there who are sympathetic and expect the best for her. I am one myself.

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