The world’s tallest woman, Sandy Allen, died early Wednesday morning at a nursing home in her hometown of Shelbyville, Ind. She was 53.

No cause of death has been released, but a family friend said Allen had been sick for several months. She had been hospitalized for a recurring blood infection, along with diabetes, breathing troubles and kidney failure, Rita Rose said.

Allen, who was 7-foot-7, is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest living woman, and has appeared in the publication since the mid-1970s.

She came into the world weighing an average 6.5 pounds – but her abnormal growth began soon after her birth in June 1955. By the age of 10, Allen stood at 6 feet 3 inches tall and by the age of 16 she towered at over 7 feet tall.

Her height was due to a tumor in her pituitary gland that caused it to release growth hormones uncontrollably, according to the world record book. At the age of 22, she underwent surgery to correct the condition.

But she was proud of her height, Rose said. "She embraced it," she said. "She used it as a tool to educate people."

Allen appeared on television shows and spoke to church and school groups to bring youngsters her message that it was all right to be different.

She wrote to Guinness World Records in 1974, saying she would like to get to know someone her own height.

"It is needless to say my social life is practically nil and perhaps the publicity from your book may brighten my life," she wrote.

The recognition as the world's tallest woman helped Allen accept her height and become less shy, Rose said.

"It kind of brought her out of her shell," Rose said. "She got to the point where she could joke about it."

Difficulty with mobility had forced Allen to curtail her public speaking in recent years, Rose said. She had suffered from diabetes and other ailments and used a wheelchair to get around.

Rose is working to set up a scholarship fund in Allen's name, with proceeds going to Shelbyville High School.

"She loved talking to kids because they would ask more honest questions," Rose said. "Adults would kind of stand back and stare and not know how to approach her."

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.