Friday May 13, 2016

Dr. Amar Sarin can make you taller, but he'll have to break your legs

A post-op patient who had leg stretching surgery done so she could be 5 cm taller.

A post-op patient who had leg stretching surgery done so she could be 5 cm taller. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Listen 7:30

For about $15,000, Dr. Amar Sarin will break your legs to make you taller.

Dr. Sarin is an orthopedic surgeon in Delhi, India and he routinely performs cosmetic height enhancement surgery, making people up to 18 or 20 centimetres taller than they used to be. 

"We have to be very cautious and safe," he tells Brent Bambury. "So we restrict ourselves."

The procedure involves breaking the bone in the patient's leg and separating the bone pieces. Almost immediately, the body starts regenerating bone to fill in the gap. As that happens, the bone fragments are pulled apart so the process can repeat. Over time, the bones — and the limbs — are lengthened. The whole process takes about four months, during which time the patient is hospitalized.

"It's a life changing procedure." - Dr. Amar Sarin

"It is a very complex procedure," Dr. Sarin tells Bambury. "You are doing a unnatural thing. You are lengthening bone, you are lengthening muscles, you are lengthening arteries and you are lengthening nerves."

The procedure is performed in Canada, but only for people who have a physical condition which inhibits their ability to live their life, not because someone wants to be taller.

Dr. Sarin says he struggled early on about whether it was ethical to perform the procedure on someone who doesn't have a physical impairment. But after seeing the impact the surgery can have on someone's mental well-being, he says he doesn't think of it as a cosmetic procedure any more. 

"It's a life changing procedure," he says. "We take only those who candidates where their life is seriously hampered because of their low self-esteem. When you are changing the life of a person, I feel very happy."

Dr. Sarin says much of this has to do with societal pressure in some parts of India.

Limb Lengthening Graphic

Cosmetic limb lengthening surgery is a booming industry in India. Here's how the procedure works. (Day 6)

Limb lengthening explained

Gavriil Abramovich Ilizarov created the Ilizarov technique in the 1950s from a research outpost in Siberia.

Surgery

  • 1. The leg bone, usually the tibia but can also be the femur, is broken in two.
  • 2. The new bone remodels around the two existing bone pieces. The optimal rate of lengthening is 1mm/day.
  • 3. An Illizarov fixator is fastened to the bone. The device holds the leg intact and further separates the bone.
  • 4. By manually twisting the screws, the pieces of bone are pulled apart and held there
  • 5. Muscle, nerves and skin form naturally as they would after any bone fracture.

Time

The surgery lasts around 3 hours followed by a week-long hospital stay.

Cost

Around $15,000, including 3 months of rehab following surgery

 

"The ultimate thing for Indian parents in a smaller town or village is to get their girl married," he says. 

Dr. Sarin describes a 28-year-old woman he did the procedure on: "She is four-foot-six or four-foot-seven. And here there's a stigma. Whenever a guy comes to see her, he will outright reject her."

The procedure is un-regulated in India, leading to concerns about who is performing the procedure and on whom. But Dr. Sarin says he's confident the procedure is safe and that surgeons are being responsible.

In fact, he says he plans to go the procedure on his daughter. 

"If I can't do it on my daughter, I have no right to do it on anyone else."