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Leg lengthening miracle worker?

Writing for AFP, Pascale Trouillaud asks whether Chinese orthopedic surgeon Bai Helong is "a miracle worker or a sorcerer's apprentice with a screwdriver and a tire iron who is making a profit from the suffering of others."

leg bones

For the past 15 years, Dr. Bai has operated on 3,000 patients of all nationalities and ages to make them taller. Half have nothing physically wrong; they simply don't like being short.

"I'm something of an authority in this field," say Dr. Bai, who developed his own technique at his private clinic in the Shanghai suburbs.

He saws through both the tibia and the fibula below the knee to, as he says, "make the dream come true." Metal braces are then screwed into the patient's legs and gradually lengthened over the next four months to stretch the limbs about two to three inches as they heal.

It takes another four months of near total immobilization before the bones are strong enough to bear the stress and weight of walking.

Leg lengthening has a long history of not-infrequent catastrophic complications including severe infection, deformity, mismatched final results, chronic pain, and permanent gait difficulties. Dr. Bai claims he can get around such problems by cutting less aggressively into the bone to avoid entering the marrow and stretching the legs at a slower pace.

"We've not had a single failure since 1995, and now it's not painful."

The cost? About $11,000 US plus plenty of down-time, scarring, and physical therapy.

Dr. Bai claims that his critics "oppose me without knowing what my work is all about." He points out that many of his patients are psychologically desperate for added height to the point of severe depression and possible suicide and are seeking a better life.

Performing leg lengthening has been illegal in China since 2006 unless such surgery is undertaken to address disability from disease, trauma, or birth defects. Plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons is strictly off-limits.

According to the health ministry, "It is forbidden to perform this surgery on people whose limbs are not deformed," although why this edict is not enforced in Dr. Bai's case was not addressed.

APSG Comment: Even the most "routine" of operations carries a real rate of known complications. But not one surgical failure here in over fifteen years and 3,000 patients? And no longer even painful? Hmm. Sounds almost too good to be true.

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