Shauna Rae is a 23-year-old woman stuck in an eight-year-old’s body. At just three feet, 10 inches tall, the reality star’s growth was stunted due to treatment she received for brain cancer as a child.
Newsweek spoke to an expert to learn more about this condition.
“Pituitary dwarfism is usually caused by lack of development, injury or dysfunction of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland—the body’s conducting hormone gland—during childhood or early adolescence,” Gabriel Zada, a professor of neurological surgery and Surgery Director at the University of Southern California’s Brain Tumor Research Center, told Newsweek.
“[This] results in a deficiency of growth hormone and other key pituitary hormones required for growth.”
The pituitary gland is a pea-sized blob at the base of the brain. It is often referred to as the “master gland” due to its important role in hormone production.
These hormones include oxytocin, often called the “love” hormone, antidiuretic hormone, which is involved in managing water absorption and blood pressure, and growth hormone.
The gland is largely controlled by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain involved in controlling many important bodily functions, such as heart rate, body temperature, hunger and mood.
When Rae was just six months old, her mother noticed a lump in her head that later was diagnosed as stage four brain cancer. “Fortunately, I do not remember anything about my cancer and chemo,” she told SurvivorNet.
The star underwent surgery, and three and a half years of chemo, and has now made a full recovery. However, the treatment did have some side effects. “My pituitary gland was rendered almost dormant,” Rae said.
“Pituitary dwarfism from any cause is relatively uncommon, arising in approximately one in 20,000 children,” Zada said. “Any insult to the hormonal pathway in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland can cause disruption of normal hormones required for growth, development, puberty, sexual function, etc.”
Some people are born with hereditary or developmental issues that result in this form of dwarfism. But for others, it can be brought on by certain treatments.
“When caused by treatment for a cancer, pituitary dwarfism is often a result of disruption and deficiency of the growth hormone pathway required for bone growth and development,” Zada said. “This can result from treatments of childhood cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.”
In some cases, pituitary dwarfism can be managed by supplementing these deficient hormones. However, this is not always possible. “In certain medical instances and cancers, administration of these hormones is deferred or contraindicated,” Zada said.
However, after years of going on and off this treatment as a child, Shauna stopped taking the hormones, which were “causing immense pain” through daily injections.
Rae has not let her condition hold her back, and now has her own successful TV programme, I am Shauna Rae, on TLC. “I really want people to walk away from watching the show with understanding and respect for being different,” she said.