A piece I wrote after meeting the former world’s smallest man, 70-cm high Edward Niño Hernandez:
“THE remark was almost casual.
“Your baby is going to be a little small,” the doctor told a worried Nohemi Hernández when she was pregnant with her first child.
He didn’t tell the nervous expectant mother her unborn child would later become the world’s smallest man – because he couldn’t possibly have known.
That is the story of Edward Niño Hernández’s life.
No-one has yet been able to explain why this 24-year-old Colombian grew slowly until he turned two and then stalled forever at a mere 70cm.
It certainly makes life awkward. Edward fights suffocation every time he takes a bus in Bogota. He loathes being picked up and cuddled. His clothes have to be specially made.
Even his education was patchy – his teachers were left paralysed by fear, terrified for the safety and practicality of teaching the one pupil who could barely reach his own chair.
But Edward’s life has not been one of discrimination, disappointment or ridicule, largely thanks to the ferocity of his family, who remain unfazed by the challenges of his diminutive, record-breaking stature.
Nohemi, now 43, went on to have four more children – all taller than Edward – and retains the determined early pragmatism she has always had about her eldest son’s lack of growth.
“The finest perfumes comes in the smallest bottles,” she insists firmly, as she prepares to sit cross-legged on the floor of the family’s living room in Bosa.
A few family members – including her husband, Eliecer, 50 and Edward’s next youngest brother, Justin, 22 – stand beside her. They nod their agreement.
There is little furniture in this otherwise smart and spotless flat in the south of Bogota, deep in an area known as much for its relative poverty as for the closeness of its communities.
But there is a low sofa, with cushions just three inches from the floor and on the wall hangs that huge, framed Guinness World Record certificate bearing Edward’s name.
“The doctors knew he was going to be small but no-one could have guessed he would one day be the smallest guy in the world,” Nohemi smiles wryly as her eldest son finally appears, looking sleepy but smart in his jeans and a hooded jumper.
“My pregnancy was normal, but we were afraid because of what the doctors said. You wonder, is this going to be a normal guy or is he going to be different?
“He’s always been a sleepy one though, even before he was born.”
Edward gives a timely yawn at her comment, a reminder that he was awoken just hours after returning to Colombia from Argentina, where he appeared on a talk show surrounded by a host of beautiful female dancers.
Such appearances are the perk of a celebrity – and one of the many facets to Edward’s fame, perks which arrived after he was named the World’s Shortest Man and still linger even though his title was cruelly snatched away within weeks.
For although Edward was the world’s shortest man from the moment he turned 18 in 2004, it took a further six years for his family to receive official recognition. When he finally received the record it was just six weeks before a shorter man, Nepalese teenager Khagendra Thapa Magar, turned 18 and seized the title.
Still, Edward’s family remain stoic about that loss too, despite the years they spent hoping Guinness would one day arrive to measure their son and discover he was shorter than the then reigning World’s Shortest Man.
They were right too. It would later be proved that the record holder, a young Chinaman called He Pingping, stood at least an inch taller than Edward.
But in 2004 they mistakenly believed a Guinness World Record required some cash. At that time the company was charging several thousand US dollars for its record adjudication service – a fee far beyond the family’s reach.
“I remember the rate for the dollar was really high so it was a lot of money then,” Nohemi recalls. “We thought maybe we should do it, maybe we should borrow the money, but we didn’t. We couldn’t be certain they would actually give him the record.”
Sadly, they were unaware that had Guinness received all of Edward’s medical records and other documents, its adjudicators would have measured him for free. It was only when Eliecer tried again five years later, this time completing the process and sending all of the correct paperwork, that the company dispatched its staff.
The team with the tape measures arrived an agonising eight months later and it would be a further four months before they would finally confirm their results. Edward measured exactly 70.21cm (two feet, 3.46 inches) He was the World’s Shortest Man.
(Pingping, tragically, would never know a smaller man had been waiting in the wings. He had died six months earlier, aged just 21 – killed by complications with his heart while filming a television show about world records in Italy.)
The young Chinaman’s three-year reign was still considerably longer than Edward’s. The latter’s certificate was still new in its frame when Magar inherited the title, standing at a mere 67cm.
“If you look online, he actually looks taller than Edward. The pictures don’t seem to match that measurement,” Nohemi notes briskly when Magar’s name is mentioned.
“Still, we would have liked to have met him. We thought about going to Nepal and having a meeting so we could officially present him with the book and the certificate. But we couldn’t go to him and he couldn’t come to us, so we missed the opportunity.”
Edward remains quiet throughout the discussion but is apparently quite content, listening to his mother and playing with his dog, an appropriately miniature pinscher he has named Luna.
The youngster is enjoying a wave of media attention. There are television appearances, film crews at the door, even a meeting with the nation’s president. But unknown to the public, he is also quietly recovering from a major cataract operation.
“Before I had that surgery I was falling down all of the time, but since then I’ve been able to see very well,” he says proudly, addressing the room for the first time in his clear childlike tone.
Still, terrible eyesight was never Edward’s sole complication. At birth, he measured 38cm and weighed a mere 1.3kg (2.9lbs) – so small he was full on just one ounce of milk. His brain developed but was naturally affected by his lack of growth. His current mental capacity is estimated to be that of an 11-year-old.
“The last doctor said Edward may have had a problem with his thyroid, which might be the reason why he never grew,” Nohemi explains.
“But we honestly don’t mind about Edward’s height. There’s nothing we can do about it. There is a treatment he could try but it’s really expensive and the results aren’t 100 per cent effective, so it’s just not worth the risk.”
At best, she explains, the treatment could help Edward grow around six centimetres. At worst, it could further affect his brain function – a chance the family are unwilling to take.
Still, those years of tests may not be wasted. Although the couple’s next three sons – Justin, Elmer, 21 and Eliecer, 13 – all grew normally, the youngest, 11-year-old Miguel Angel, displays a pace of growth worryingly similar to that of his eldest brother. Should his development also falter, the couple may yet return to the treatment suggested for Edward.
The young Colombian’s experiences may help other children too. Nohemi says her son is so delighted with the results of his eye operation; he has been inspired to help other young people who are equally affected by problems with their sight.
“Edward suffered a lot because of his size,” she finally admits.
“We have to carry him on and off the buses and sometimes it’s so crowded he can hardly breathe. Before he had this operation he could barely see. Afterwards he saw a different world, which is why he wants to start a foundation. We’re working on it.”
Finally Edward becomes interested in our conversation.
“I want to start a foundation to help orphans, deaf children and blind children,” he declares. I seize the opportunity to quiz him about the changes in his life.
What are the positives about being the smallest man in the world?
“Everything,” he smiles politely.
“I like it when they take my photograph. I like that everyone admires me. I like all of the attention I’m getting.”
And what about that meeting with Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos? That was the photograph that put Edward on the front page of his nation’s newspapers.
“He’s cool, he’s a nice person,” Edward beams.
“His house was big but it was beautiful.”
But we have to ask. If Edward is so firm in his dislike of being picked up and cuddled, why did those photographs show him posing so merrily on the president’s knee?
“Well, er, the President is different,” his father interrupts, before his son can respond.
“Yes, he gave me a computer and some CDs,” Edward chirrups happily. The room erupts into laughter. That’s apparently the price of this young man’s principles.
Despite the attention heaped upon this family in the wake of the world record, they insist it has done little to alter an entertainment career Edward was already pursuing.
He’d already acted in both films and on television; he’d been interviewed by a famous Colombian talk show host; he’d appeared on the nation’s favourite sketch show. He’d even been photographed by Colombia’s favourite lads’ magazine.
Still, a Guinness World Record has to open some doors. Edward is the star of a documentary due to be aired in Britain next month. He’s since filmed another movie role – playing a no-good gangster who starts a shoot-out at a wedding.
“We kept trying with the record until we got a response and it was worth it because he does have some more proposals now,” his mother finally admits.
“They aren’t firm offers but they are there. But he was always a person with his own dreams and his own projects and they are really different from the record.
“It was great because it was worldwide recognition but he is still working on his projects as a person, as an artist, as an actor.”
Still, it’s an awful lot of attention. You would expect it to go to a person’s head.
“What were you like before you had the world record?” I enquire.
“Shy,” Edward replies bluntly.
“Not so much,” he grins.
“Oh, on the last show, in Argentina, he changed everything,” Nohemi groans, putting her head in her hands in mock despair.
“His hairstyle wasn’t the one he wanted, so we had to change that. Then the choreography wasn’t very good and he complained about that.
“Finally he told the women that you have to dance with your hair loose and guess what?” she laughs.
“They all had to untie their hair.”