In India, where being tall is deemed attractive, the number of young people undergoing the country’s limb-lengthening procedure is increasing. While the procedure is complex, painful, and expensive, more and more people are deciding to have it in an attempt to end up with better jobs or life partners. Experts, however, have warned that the limb-lengthening procedure can leave people permanently crippled when done wrong.
The first limb-lengthening surgery was done in the 1950s in a remote Siberian town called Kurgan. The inventor, Gavriil Ilizarov, was once accused of being a quack. He operated on people whose accidents left them deformed. His surgery was also meant to assist people born with bone defects.
The Ilizarov technique is now being performed in Delhi by orthopedic doctor Amar Sarin. Even if he’s been performing the limb-lengthening surgery for the past five years, he admits that it’s still dangerous, as there are no proper training provided for the said procedure. The operation involves the breaking of a person’s bones and requiring him or her to wear braces until the limbs are fully repaired.
As per the doctor’s website, the patient can attain a maximum height increase of 15 centimeters. The recovery period depends on the patient, but for a 7.5-centimeter increase, it will take approximately eight months to fully regain one’s mobility. The patient can resume rigorous physical activities after two years. For the height increase, the cost of the procedure is $10,000.
Sarin does not deny the perils that come with the limb-lengthening procedure, which is why his team generally tries to persuade the patient to make a different decision. He told the Guardian that the procedure’s not typically meant for cosmetic purposes.
“We often turn people away. We try counselling first, but we’ve had patients who even threaten to commit suicide if I refuse to do the surgery. Twice I’ve had to call the police in emergency situations like that.”
He acknowledged that doing the surgery is “madness” but explained that many of the patients he came across were dealing with acute psychological disorders.
President of the Indian Orthopedic Association Sudhir Kapoor also emphasized that the limb-lengthening surgery is not meant for cosmetic purposes.
“We don’t recommend people to do this surgery except for in very rare cases. These surgeries are not done routinely and there’s a high risk of complications.”
Indians are not the only ones who undergo the surgery. According to Sarin, of the 300 patients he had accommodated, only a third came from his country. He revealed getting an average of 20 calls a day from people who wanted to be taller.
A 24-year-old patient from the Indian town of Kota told the publication her reason for choosing the surgery.
“I have so much confidence now. I was just 4′ 6″ [137cm]. People used to make fun of me and I couldn’t get a job. Now my younger sister is doing it, too,” she said.
The family resorted to selling their ancestral land to fund the sisters’ surgeries.
Apart from India, limb-lengthening surgeries are still done in Russia, where patients are also subjected to the Ilizarov technique. Lawyer Sara Vornamen previously opened up to the Daily Mail about the surgery and the warnings that she got.
“They told me I was crazy and I could end up an amputee. They warned that I could become paralyzed, that there were 250 different infections I could get in the bone. But I just decided to go ahead and have surgery anyway, and my research led me to Russia.”
Vornamen made the life-altering decision after enduring taunts about her height. The attorney said that she was never taken seriously because of her tiny size.
[Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]