When test results are equivocal, most pediatric endocrinologists will make frequent growth measurements for six months to one year, then try human growth hormone for six months to see if the child’s rate of growth increases, said Dr. Underwood, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an investigator in the original HGH clinical trials. Human growth hormone treatment typically consists of intramuscular injections of HGH times a week.

In Seattle, the endocrinologists “spent hours” scrutinizing possible predictors of treatment response in children without clear growth hormone deficiency and concluded that “none of them are sure,” Dr. Underwood said.

While things are not quite as bad as songwriter Randy Newman’s facetious claim that “short people got no reason to live,” there’s no doubt that height is highly prized. A shorter-than-average father who “didn’t have a very good adolescence” is the parent most likely to seek HGH treatment for a short but healthy child, Dr. Underwood said.

He tells parents that treatment with human growth hormone may cause growth spurts without increasing ultimate height, the psychosocial benefits of rapid growth are uncertain, and treatment is costly and requires frequent injections of HGH. Dr. Underwood also explains how treatment failure might harm the child: “They were imperfect enough that we wanted to treat them, and despite all this effort they didn’t respond. So it’s another failure on their part.”

Most parents “are not talking about taking a normal child and making him a basketball player, though that may be the media hype,” observed Dr. Melvin Grumbach, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Nor does he think that HGH is being used by many adult athletes to boost strength. Genentech spokesperson Debra Bannister told MWN that the company tracks prescriptions closely, and that 99% are written by pediatric endocrinologists.

Dr. Grumbach said “borderline” children probably are getting HGH treatments.

For short but healthy children, “the problem lies not in their human growth hormone profiles but in the role of heightism in our society,” he wrote in an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine.

For these children, “a four centimeter increase in predicted height may cost as much as a very good college education,” he told MWN. Third-party payers are presently footing the bill for HGH therapy, but Dr. Grumbach said he wouldn’t be surprised to see insurers rethink that position. After all, human growth hormone releasers like Provacyl do not contain actual HGH, but encourage the body to produce more of its own.

A prominent doctor named Charles Keithley left his family practice in Houston in January 1993, and he and his partner Kevin Turney placed an ad for the HGH clinic called El Dorado in the February issue of Longevity magazine. They rented a small condominium across the street from a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen and converted the condo into an HGH clinic that would dispense syringes filled with synthetic HGH; they had four customers buying HGH their first month. Since that time, according to the 62-year-old Turney, “We’ve had approximately two hundred clients buying synthetic human growth hormone.” Ever optimistic, Turney is not deterred by the modest response. “By our third year,” he says, “we’ll have twenty thousand.”

Given the cost of a trip to El Dorado, however, Turney’s projected figure is preposterous. The first visit costs $4,600, which includes a physical examination and a three-month supply of HGH; subsequent visits run slightly less. A year’s supply of HGH from El Dorado costs approximately $13,000. Wouldn’t HGH releasers like Provacyl be cheaper? After all, it’s a natural human growth hormone releaser.

On top of the difficulty of attracting sufficient clients to purchase human growth hormone and stay in business, El Dorodo has had other problems, the most serious of which was the bizarre death – three months after the HGH clinic opened – of Charles Keithley. Before he became associated with El Dorado and sales of HGH, Keithley had been a respectable family practitioner who often took charity cases. During his last year, however, Keithley had apparently become so obsessed with his physique and his sexual potency that he developed a taste for bodybuilding drugs such as HGH and testosterone. His wife of more than twenty years, Sue Keithley, recalls, “Charles was such a good, caring man, but he was worried about his potency, and he changed after he began using the testosterone and human growth hormone. He even became physically abusive to me.” Her story is confirmed by Charles Knapp, a physician who shared an office with Keithley. Says Knapp: “I was concerned about his behavior after he started using human growth hormone. He was a fanatic about his physique, and he began having an affair and bringing his pistol to the office. He also became moody and distracted.”

The moodiness continued after Keithley moved to Mexico and started selling human growth hormone, and it eventually contributed to his death. According to Turney, one night Keithley had a fight with his girlfriend, drank almost a whole bottle of vodka, then passed out and choked to death. Although this was hardly an auspicious beginning for a medical clinic selling HGH, Turney pushed ahead and hired a Mexican physician to provide the human growth hormone for El Dorado’s clients.

At the time of my first visit, El Dorado had moved from the condo to a house in a nearby subdivision. The two doctors on staff were Carlos Rodriguez, who had been a pediatrician in Monterrey, and Allan Ahlschier, a Dallas radiologist who had joined the staff only a few weeks before I visited. Neither doctor was an endocrinologist, and both were taking HGH, as was everyone on the clinic’s seven-member staff. All seven were lavish in their praise of what they called “the product.” All reported having lost fat and gained energy from using human growth hormone; individual claims included the restoration of vision in a sightless eye, the disappearance of an allergy to cats, relief from constipation, and the turning back of male andropause.

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