Igor Vovkovinskiy, who was once America’s tallest man measuring a record 7-Foot-8 tall, has died of heart disease at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, United States.
According to a post on Facebook from his mother, Vovkovinskiy died surrounded by his family on Aug 20, 2021.
Originally born in the town of Bar in central Ukraine’s Vinnytsia Oblast, he moved to the United Stated at the age of 7 for medical treatment. According to doctors, Vovkovinskiy’s extraordinary growth was a result of pituitary gigantism, which occurs when a tumor pressing against the pituitary gland forces the continual release of human growth hormones.
His condition was extremely rare. Only around 200 cases of pituitary gigantism have been reported globally. According to a documentary filmed for Australian TV show “60 Minutes,” by age 6, Vovkovinskiy measured a staggering 6 feet tall.
America’s Tallest Man
Vovkovinskiy first came to fame when he appeared in the crowd at a 2009 rally organized by then-U.S President Barack Obama. Sporting a shirt with the message “World’s biggest Obama supporter,” Vovkovinskiy was easily spotted by the former resident, who was photographed shaking his hand.
From then on, Vovkovinskiy’s height continued to draw international attention. The Ukrainian giant featured in TV commercials, films, and late-night talk shows across the world.
Appearing on the American “Dr. Oz” show in New York in 2010, he was officially declared America’s tallest man, narrowly beating the previous record holder by one-third of an inch.
Despite the media attention surrounding Vovkovinskiy’s height, the Ukrainian-born Vovkovinskiy once stated that he was proud to hold the title of world’s tallest man, but would rather not hold it.
Understandably, towering above his peers, there were many drawbacks to his height. “Looking at the world from my height, it’s a different experience every day,” he told Australian journalists, “I always have to be thinking about: am I endangering my life? Nothing is built for my size, so everything is a challenge.”
In 2012, following a plea posted to social media to raise $16,000 needed to pay for the construction of specially made orthopedic shoes to fit his size 26 10E feet, sneaker company Reebok stepped in to provide him with the shoes for free.
Vovkovinskiy’s abnormal height also caused him serious medical conditions. His near constant growth placed a tremendous strain on his internal organs and bones. In a 2016 interview, he told a local journalist that he was in almost constant debilitating pain.
As Vovkovinskiy’s illness progressed, the pain became increasingly debilitating and forced him into an extended period of hospitalization. Despite his troubling health, the intricacies of living in a world too small for him, and his inability to simply blend in with the crowd, Vovkovinskiy remained cautiously philosophical about his life.
“The pain I have is pretty much 24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t do anything useful. I try to think about something else. Read a book. Skype with my friends from Ukraine,” Vovkovinskiy told Rochester Magazine.
“So, I think that even the simple things in life, people should be more grateful. Especially, if you live in America. Really count your blessings. Really appreciate all of the little things you have.”
Vovkovinskiy traveled across the world, visiting Ukraine frequently and even appearing on stage during Ukraine’s 2013 Eurovision Song Contest entry in Malmö, Sweden, carrying singer Zlata Ognevich onto the stage dressed in an eccentric costume.
Unfortunately, leading up to his death, Vovkovinskiy struggled more and more with his pain, unable to take part in the activities he once did.
“The last five years were very hard for Igor. He was living in the past because all the good memories he had were when he was still able to walk and travel,” his mother Svetlana told the Kyiv Post. “In earlier years, we would travel to Ukraine every other year in summers, visiting our family and friends. He traveled here in the US. But pain killed his spirit.”
The Ukrainian-born giant spent much of his life being monitored at the Mayo Clinic, with Vovkovinskiy finding employment in an administrative position with the hospital, and his mother working as an intensive care nurse.
Vovkovinskiy’s greatest inspiration in life was his mother Svetlana. Having separated from Igor’s father for nearly 30 years, Svetlana raised Igor by herself, helping to provide for Igor however she could.
Svetlana never intended for her and her son to remain in the U.S, believing instead that after treatment for Igor’s pituitary tumour, they would be able to return to Ukraine. Unfortunately, American surgeons were only able to partially remove the growth.
Instead, remaining in the county due to Igor’s health, Svetlana established a new life for their family, even custom-building their Rochester home to accommodate her almost 8-foot tall son. Igor was able to enjoy many of the pleasures of American life, driving his own car, fishing at lakes, traveling across the country, and meeting new people.
In a 2013 interview, Igor said of his mother: “The person with the biggest influence on me is definitely my mom. Along the road, she’s been my inspiration to do well in college, and to try new and exciting things in life.”
Despite living halfway across the world, Vovkovinskiy never lost his touch with his Ukrainian roots, keeping in regular contact with friends and family in Ukraine.
“I love Ukraine, however it is,” Vovkovinskiy once wrote on Facebook. “Your motherland is your motherland, you can’t change that. I wish that more Ukrainians felt that way.”
Igor’s mother noted that he cared deeply about Russia’s war in Ukraine, and went out of his way to help his country whenever he could. The Ukrainian national raised money for Ukrainian combat veterans and donated equipment to military personnel.
“He was a happy child growing up, and memories of childhood kept his spirit up. That is why the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine shocked all of us and our mission was to help the Ukrainian volunteer army,” Svetlana wrote. “He listened to the news all day, and was very passionate about politics, corruption, greed, and unfairness.”
“We were lucky and found a group of the most honest patriots and worked with them to help on the front. He found on Facebook a list of items that soldiers needed and would order binoculars and headlights online that I sent,” Igor’s mother recalled.
Vovkovinskiy’s funeral is to take place on Aug. 28, 2021, at the Ranfranz & Vine Funeral Home in Rochester. In memory of his death, a fundraiser has been launched to raise money for his favourite cause: helping Ukrainian volunteer organizations and raising money for those wounded in the war.
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