Anne's tall story captured world's imagination

She was a Shropshire patient whose tall story went round the world.

Anne Rowston stepping out with walking sticks shortly before being discharged from hospital
Anne Rowston stepping out with walking sticks shortly before being discharged from hospital

Anne Rowston was 6ft seven-and-a-half inches when she went into hospital. And when she left the Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry she was more than six inches shorter.

The story of her height reduction surgery and the skills of the Shropshire surgeons made headlines from America to India.

Just 19 when she went in, after four operations and eight months in a hospital bed she took her first tentative steps in May 1965 with the aid of two walking sticks as she began the process of learning to walk again on shortened legs.

When she was finally able to go home at the beginning of the following month Anne, then aged 20, was trying to manage with just one stick, and hoping to discard that soon.

"Now I will be able to go anywhere just like a normal person and be unnoticed in a crowd," she said.

Anne in her hospital bed at the Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital.

The surgery led by orthopaedic surgeon David Lloyd Griffiths had seen her reduced by four inches above the knee and two inches below.

During her time in hospital she had had more than 400 letters from all over the world, including four proposals of marriage.

Anne (or Ann, spellings in reports differ), who lived at Harbour Farm Road, Hyde, Cheshire, was looking forward to completely refitting her wardrobe and finding a "normal" job.

Her main interest during her lengthy stay at the Orthopaedic was art, and the hospital art therapist, Donald Foster, was full of praise for her work.

She had been unhappy about her height ever since adolescence. Her pituitary gland had failed to shut down its output of growth hormone as she matured and she just kept growing.

"I used to feel as if I had two heads," said Anne in an interview with America's Time magazine.

"The children were the worst to face. They'd shout 'lanky!' and 'what's the weather like up there?' and that sort of thing. I wanted to hide in shame."

She went to the hospital in the summer of 1964 for advice about special shoes.

Complex

Time reported: "It was on that visit that Surgeon Griffiths startled her by asking whether she would like to grow smaller. 'I was upset at first,' she says. 'I thought it was just another gibe. But then I found he really meant it.'"

The four operations were more complex than removing lengths of bone, as there would be left extra lengths of arteries, veins, muscles, and tendons.

Despite the successful height reducing procedure, there was still an issue with proportion, as her hands dangled too close to her knees, and that meant giving consideration to even more technically complex operations to shorten her arms.

It is not clear if these were done later, but in any event Anne told the Time reporter: "The most wonderful moment of all will be when I can walk down the street looking at other people instead of trying to hide from them."

In 1966 she started her first job in two years, working at a leather factory, but seems thereafter to disappear from the media radar.

If she is still with us – there was a woman from Hyde of the same name and right age to be "our" Anne who died in February 2007, but it may of course be a coincidence – Anne would today be in her mid-70s.

I witnessed media frenzy from the hospital bed next door

Margaret Morris of Oswestry well remembers the tall girl who made international headlines – because she was in the next bed to her.

Mrs Morris was recovering at the Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital from serious injuries suffered in a road crash when she crossed paths with Anne Rowston, whose 6ft seven and a half inches height was reduced by more than six inches in a series of operations.

“I was in the next bed to her and we did our physio together,” said Mrs Morris, who lived back then in Selattyn. “I was in for three months following a serious road accident. I often think about her and wonder where she is now. I do know if she didn’t have any further operations.

“Although it was such a long time ago – I was 22, and am 78 now – hearing about it, it seems like only yesterday.”

Anne was 19 when she went into the Shropshire hospital in September 1964, and it was not until the following June that she went home, following four operations to shorten her legs.

Mrs Morris was a passenger in a car when she was in a road crash on the Oswestry to Selattyn road on February 5, 1965, and suffered multiple fractures. In those days she worked at Hands chemist’s in Oswestry, and was the unmarried Miss Morris, Morris also being her maiden name. She went first to the Orthopaedic, and was transferred to Shrewsbury hospital because it was suspected she had internal injuries, and then transferred back to the Orthopaedic where she was put in traction.

Shy

“I actually went to theatre to have a plate put in my broken arm on the day of my 22nd birthday, February 25, 1965. My vivid memory of Anne was seeing her walking on the ward, and she was taller than the curtains. We were on Gladstone ward. She was very, very apprehensive, as you can imagine. Once she had the operation and recovered it was all down to physio and getting her mobile.

“She did not say an awful lot. She was quite a shy person. I suppose it was due to being so tall that made her rather shy.

“I think in the very early stages she said she wished she had not had it done, probably due to the pain and discomfort she was in. Once she knew she was going to be able to walk again, she was okay.

“At the time it was a massive thing. I can remember the television crews coming and filming her.”

Mrs Morris says Anne, who hailed from Hyde in Cheshire, took the attention in her stride.

“Having shortened her legs, she was out of proportion, and they did discuss the possibility of shortening her arms. I’m pretty sure, although I can’t say 100 per cent, that she never had any more surgery.”

Mrs Morris left the hospital before Anne. “We didn’t keep in touch. I was sorry we didn’t exchange addresses. I always thought about her and wondered what did become of her. When I became the owner of an iPad I googled ‘girl who was shortened in the hospital’ and a little bit came up, but nothing very much.

“I recovered. It took me a long time. I used to have physio for many months and was on crutches for a long time.”

She was at the chemist for 13 years and later she and her late husband Doug Morris ran an antiques shop in Oswestry called Parker’s Patch.

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