Leg-Lengthening Surgeries in Siberia

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August 19, 2009—Putting the "extreme" in extreme makeover, some Russian surgeons are courting controversy by breaking legs, among other procedures, to make the limbs longer for cosmetic purposes.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

This 23-year-old woman in a clinic in Kurgan, western Siberia hopes to grow five centimeters taller, or about 2 inches, before she leaves.

Protruding metal pins deep inside each of her legs support a brace.

UPSOUND: (Russian) Tanya, Leg Lengthening Patient "This process really sucks you in when you see your legs grow longer you want to lengthen them more. Then you can lengthen the thighs and so on for the whole ten centimeters and it looks really beautiful."

According to the Associated Press, the operation has cost her the equivalent of 26,000-dollars (US), and 9 months of her life.

To lengthen the limbs the bone is first broken.

When placed back together the fractured bones will fuse.

The limbs are increased in length by using the pins to keep the bones slightly apart so that tissue continues to grow to fill the gap, and over time, lengthens the bone. Complications, though, are not uncommon. They can range from bone infection and poor bone healing, uneven growth between the limbs, damage to blood vessels, muscle and bone, and nerve injury. Orthopedic surgeon Konstantin Novikov insists he only operates where there is genuine need.

He says that if the patients are determined, no amount of persuasive tactics will change their conviction.

SOUNDBITE: (English), Dr. Konstantin Novikov, Orthopedic Surgeon "If possible to change front of nose, (or) increase the size of breast(s), why not change forms (length) of legs?"

Although the surgery is often performed to treat dwarfism in children, John Hollingdale an orthopedic surgeon in London is dismissive of the use of the operation for cosmetic reasons.

SOUNDBITE: (English), Dr. John Hollingdale, Orthopedic Surgeon "Nothing surprises me these days that things are being done by surgeons around the world, I am afraid to say. I'm not sure why they're doing it in Kurgan, maybe they're running low on funds."

For some people in Russia it seems it's just another aspect of the ongoing quest for physical perfection.

UPSOUND: (Russian), Tanya, Leg Lengthening Patient "This is the pain of joy, of happiness. Of knowing that it will be great once it's over."

It's a long process, her broken bones are moved a millimeter further apart each day.

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