When one Massachusetts woman with a rare type of dwarfism reached adulthood, she thought she had overcome most of the challenges that her condition presented. Unfortunately, though, new difficulties emerged after she fell pregnant. And as a result, doctors knew that they would have to keep close tabs on her unborn baby.
Tiffanie DiDonato had been born in Boston, Massachusetts, with diastrophic dysplasia, which is an unusual form of dwarfism. It essentially means that, while her torso is of average size, her legs and arms are shorter than many of those who have the condition.
And the diastrophic dysplasia affected DiDonato’s physical development: when she was of middle school age, for example, DiDonato measured just 3’6” tall. During that time, she longed to do the simple everyday things that other kids her age took for granted. Switching on a light, cooking on a stove top or taking something off a tall supermarket shelf were actions she could only dream of.
So, to give her more independence in life, DiDonato began a series of agonizing and contentious limb-lengthening surgeries at the tender age of eight. The harrowing procedures involved the breaking of certain bones and then forcing them to regrow longer. Needless to say, those kinds of operations are very risky ones.
Fortunately, though, DiDonato’s bouts of surgery paid off by adding four inches to her height. Still, they didn’t come without a cost. “When I woke up, when it hurt so much, you freeze it, almost like if you scream it is going to hurt worse,” she told ABC News in 2012. “All you can do is kind of let the tears fall and deal with it.”
But despite the excruciating pain, at the age of 15, DiDonato elected to undergo the surgery once more. However, her supervising doctor took the controversial decision to put no cap on her growth. Instead, he let the teen’s body stretch out as much as it physically could.
And DiDonato’s mother and father, Robin and Gerry, stood by the doctor’s decision. “It was all about independence,” Robin DiDonato explained to ABC News. “It was doing things on her own, brushing her own hair. My biggest fear was her being dependent on others for her care because – let’s face it – Gerry and I won’t be around forever.”
After her second round of surgeries, DiDonato had gained an amazing 10 inches in height. She now stood at 4’10” – just bordering on the defined height for a “little person.” Later, she published the details of her journey in a memoir, sassily entitled Dwarf.
In the book, DiDonato declared that she had a “no-pain, no-gain” approach to life. She added, “If you go through a struggle, if you know what sacrifice is, and you have felt a little pain, it makes you that much braver. It makes you a little bit more aware.”
Before too long, in fact, DiDonato was learning how to put her bad times behind her. And happily, in the process, she met the love of her life, Eric Gabrielse. What’s more, it didn’t take long for the six-foot Marine sergeant to realize that DiDonato was the one for him, too.
“She’s so powerful and strong,” Gabrielse said of DiDonato on ABC News. “Being in the military, you need somebody that, one, can be independent, but two, can be extremely supportive. Because of everything she’s gone through, she’s been through her own battles. So, she knows exactly how to support me through mine.”
The adorable couple eventually married and decided to start a family together. In fact, in 2012, and while based in Swansboro, North Carolina, the couple were preparing to welcome their first son, Titan. However, due to DiDonato’s condition, pregnancy would be far from straightforward for her.
As well as the possibility that her baby may have inherited dwarfism, DiDonato’s small frame had limited space in which a baby could grow. What’s more, as her due date approached, the mom-to-be relied on crutches because her expanding stomach could cause her to tip over. “I look like I swallowed a beach ball,” she joked on ABC News.
However, with her doting husband’s support, her pregnancy went well, and later that year, the couple welcomed a healthy newborn son. But, of course, that was only the beginning of the hard work of parenthood. In addition, DiDonato had to adapt to the further challenges of a little person raising an average-sized child.
“I have to put my MacGyver hat on and pick my battles as a parent,” DiDonato told People magazine in 2015. “Titan is a typical kid – he wants to do what he wants to do. And chasing him outside or across the street is not an option for me.”
But despite the challenges parenthood posed, DiDonato wanted to add to her family. And that idea became a reality in 2015, when she fell pregnant with her second son, Tristan. With that happy news came a more troubling possibility, though: while Titan had not inherited his mom’s condition, there was still a chance that Tristan might.
As a result, doctors carried out an ultrasound scan on DiDonato to determine her new baby’s fate. And the mom admitted that she was understandably concerned about what the outcome would be. “I’m nervous, but I’m anxious at the same time,” she told TV news magazine show Inside Edition at the time.
However, DiDonato need not have worried, as her scan revealed that Tristan had no sign of dwarfism. “There was a huge sense of relief,” the expectant mom revealed. “Now he’s not going to have a life full of surgery.”
And with two young sons, DiDonato naturally faced extra challenges. “When Titan was younger, I believed there was nothing I couldn’t do,” she explained to People. “With two boys, the hardest pill I’ll have to swallow is the idea that I will need help at times.”
However – like always – determined DiDonato managed to see the positives. “Having two kids will ensure I am active and on my feet – pain or no pain,” explained the little person who went to great lengths to produce her babies. “[This] could be a blessing for my form of dwarfism. Inactivity is a sure way for me to regress and end up in a wheelchair.”