Chef Jeff Goldfarb is recognized as the "World's Tallest Chef," and while he's embraced the title, his size has also caused him a fair share of medical problems and complications over the years.
Now, the record-holding chef will undergo brain surgery to remove a tumor from his pituitary gland.
The 42-year-old Homewood native has been remarkably tall since his freshman year of high school—6'4"—and he kept growing from there, finishing his senior year at 6'11" and eventually topping out at an even 7 feet. Such rapid growth can sometimes be a sign of a disorder called gigantism.
His height has been an issue at time in his line of work.
"Sixteen hour days do not do wonders for one's back or one's feet when you're 7 feet tall," Goldfarb said. "The kitchen environment was not made for a tall person, a tall chef. It's like a kid in King Arthur's court, or it's like Nixon going to China, pretty much."
While Goldfarb said he and his doctors have always suspected that he might have gigantism, the diagnosis wasn't officially confirmed until about a week and a half ago, when he went to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist about his allergies. Gigantism is a disorder of the pituitary gland in the brain that causes it to release abnormal amounts of growth hormone, resulting in abnormal growth and size.
The doctor ordered a CAT scan to get a better look at Goldfarb's nose and sinuses, but the scan revealed a much bigger problem: A pituitary gland tumor on the lower part of his brain.
"He just found it," Goldfarb said. "I got lucky, I guess, that I saw the doctor for my allergies. Because if I didn't, it could have gotten worse."
While the tumor appears to be benign for now, it nevertheless presents a number of problems for Goldfarb. He said it's affecting his hormone levels, which can lead to health complications all over his body, and it's putting pressure on his optic nerve and could potentially cause blindness.
Goldfarb is currently in the process of seeing a cardiologist, an endocrinologist, and several other specialists in preparation for surgery to remove the tumor sometime in November or December. A neurosurgeon and an ear, nose, and throat specialist will remove the tumor by inserting a special scope with a camera and a laser through his nose.
"It's a very serious surgery," Goldfarb said. "There are risks involved. I am very scared, but the recovery rate is excellent."
During his upcoming doctors' visits, Goldfarb wants to find out if he also has Marfan's syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that can affect people who are abnormally tall or abnormally short. It can cause heart problems in addition to affecting the skeletal and immune systems. Marfan's is another disease that Goldfarb has always suspected he might have, and the discovery of his brain tumor has woken him up to the importance of catching these things early.
"If you put Marfan's or gigantism on your record, meaning that you have been diagnosed with it officially, it's a red flag to any doctor to say, 'Well, we need to give this guy a heart test, we need to give this guy a blood test, make sure everything's all right.'" Goldfarb said. "'We need to make sure that we get a CAT scan of his sinuses or his brain,' which would be expensive without insurance, or course, but the alternative would be not to find it early enough on and have more problems later on."
He wants to raise awareness about these types of diseases, which are less common and receive less advocacy than things like cancer. He wants to encourage parents to be aware of these kinds of conditions.
"If your child is growing excessively fast, you might want to have that child checked out for these types of diseases early on, too," he said.
The recovery period after the surgery could be up to three or four weeks, but Goldfarb is hoping for a quick and full recovery so he can get back to working on his latest project, a culinary arts program at the Country Club Hills Wellness Center. With residents just beginning to move into the center now, Goldfarb hopes that the center will be ready to get the ball rolling on his program by the time he's feeling better.
"Hopefully by the time I get recovered, they'll all be done moving in so we could start cooking," he said.