Would You Get Your Bones Broken to Increase Your Height?
Is leg lengthening –the radical new cosmetic surgery where doctors make you taller by breaking your bones, worth it?
Got eight lakh rupees? Dr Amar Sarin will break the bones of your leg and make you taller.
Just when you thought cosmetic surgery could not get any bizarre there comes something as radical, costly and cutting edge like limb or leg lengthening surgery which a ‘growing’ number of people are opting for to become taller.
At 5 feet 7 inches, Hyderabad-based techie Nikhil Reddy was taller than most Indian men but still unhappy about it. So he did what would be unthinkable for a lot of average height males.
In April this year, he ran away from home and underwent surgery to get taller by 2 inches. Two months after deciding to take off from where nature left, every minute has been a painful grind- Nikhil is bedridden, four people have to carry him to the bathroom. His height has grown one centimetre in all these months.
Limb lengthening is one of the most risky orthopedic surgeries - if not done properly the patient can die on the operating table.
So shouldn’t a procedure as agonising, drastic and exhaustive as this be restricted by doctors for cosmetic reasons? And is it worth it for patients to put their health and future on the line for a few inches of height?
Not Just a Tall Order
The procedure is brutal. See for yourself in this gif below.
In about 45-minutes roughly in the OT, the doctor breaks the shinbones and puts a very medieval, gothic looking device with metal pins and screws. The patient has to turn the screws frequently to constantly pull the bones apart.
After excruciating pain and more than six-months of closely monitored physiotherapy, new bone grows in the gap left behind by separating the ends of the broken bone.
If physical therapy is left mid-way, like in the case of Hyderabad-based techie Nikhil Reddy, the damages in mobility can be permanent.
Once upon a time, this painful, high-risk surgery was reserved for people with dwarfism or accident victims where the bones get deformed. But now, obsessed with stature, hundreds of Indians are opting for this totally unregulated limb lengthening procedure and going to surgeons who have limited experience performing it.
Is the Procedure Safe?
Delhi-based surgeon Dr Amar Sarin, the most renowned orthopedic who has done more than 300 such surgeries mostly for pure cosmetic reasons, still gets 10 to 20 calls a day by people all over the world who want to grow taller. He performs the surgery routinely but admits “it is madness”.
It’s one of the most difficult, complex and unnatural orthopedic/cosmetic procedures and it is totally unregulated in India. If performed by an untrained, specialised doctor, the downside can be many. For example, non-union of the bones, chronic bone infections, bone doesn’t harden properly, permanent nerve damage and even death on the operation table.Dr Amar Sarin, Orthopedic Surgeon, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute
Medical innovation has both promise and predicament. The promise of attaining perfection and the predicament to work upon nature. Given the risks are a giant can of worms, should doctors not be banned from carrying it out for pure vanity?
The Ethics Of Breaking Bones To Get a Little Taller
If a person can change their gender for cosmetic reasons why shouldn’t they be allowed to look a certain way, argues Dr Sarin.
Doctor Sachin Bhosle, another orthopedic surgeon in Mumbai says they turn away most patients who want such procedures unless they really really want it and understand the depths of post-operative care required for months.
We don’t lure patients into this procedure. My team counsels them on the risks and months of physical therapy, painkillers and support needed after the surgery. I turn away 600 to 800 requests a month but if a patient begs for it then we go ahead with it.Dr Amar Sarin, Orthopedic Surgeon, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute
If the lack of inches affects the patients mental health, Dr Bhosle goes ahead with the procedure, “I feel happy when I change someone’s life for the better”.
Leg lengthening procedure is a long-term, high-risk investment and most good doctors will talk you out of it unless you are under five feet tall. Sometimes even after years, the new bones are too brittle for the person to stand without support, bend or squat.
So is it worth it?
Yes, if the prospect of one leg staying permanently in a three o’clock position, nerve damage and financial burden means nothing to you in comparison to the ridicule and stigma linked to a short stature. Three inches is a lot, says the doctor. If it boosts your self esteem and puts you in a happy place, go ahead and become the best version of yourself.
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