Rohan Gupta, 21, willingly got both his legs broken and metal rods impaled through them in two places to support a clunky frame. Unable to walk and in pain, he was laid up for months, spending upwards of Rs 6 lakh on treatment.
"It was totally worth it,” said a visibly happy undergraduate from Lucknow. “When I stood up after four months, I was in heaven." Or a little more closer -- after a successful limb-lengthening surgery that added 3.5 inches to his somewhat slight frame of 5 feet and 4 inches.
"I'm 5 feet and 7-1/2 inches now. My younger brother was taller, now he's not. I can't wait for his reaction," said Gupta, living in Delhi for the past five months.
Techie Amit Sundaran moved to the Capital from Hyderabad in January and added three inches to his 5’2’’ after a surgery on January 23.
The 25-year-old’s need to stand taller was more professional than personal. "Trust me, it was needed. Being short is not just a social handicap but also affects your career by getting in the way of promotions," he said, lying in his bed with both legs in metal frames.
After a broken engagement, Charu Singh’s family came to the city from Alwar in Rajasthan. She, according to her family, was more presentable now -- at 4’11’’, having gained four inches.
"People looked at me like I was a freak, it's changed now," she said. “Thanks to doctor sahib, I’m like everyone else.”
Her gratitude was for Dr Amar Sarin, an orthopaedic surgeon at Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute in west Delhi. The Russia-trained surgeon has done more than 150 limb-lengthening surgeries since 1996.
“Initially, most of my patients were from the US, Europe and China, but it’s changed over the past three years. Indians now account for two in three surgeries,” Dr Sarin said. He uses the Ilizarov technique in which a bone is cut – or broken -- and lengthened gradually with the help of metal wires and rings.
Nine in 10 people who opt for surgery are men.
The Ilizarov method, which destroyed the view that bone can’t be grown longer, is widely used to correct deformities, which may be congenital or caused by accidents, polio or poorly-healed fractures but people are increasingly opting for it for cosmetic reasons. “It’s still a very small percentage, just 150 of the more than 3,000 surgeries I’ve done, but it’s growing,” he said.
Orthopaedic surgeon such as Dr Manish Dhawan at Ganga Ram Hospital said they rarely do limb-lengthening for cosmetic reasons.
“I do not advocate it for cosmetic reasons because there can be complications such as infection…and neurovascular complications because of the insertion, osteoporosis at the site of the fracture or of the bone etc,” Dr Dhawan said.
Dr Sarin said they do a psychological assessment and do the surgery only when lack of inches start affecting every aspect of patients’ lives.
Not everyone does it as a last resort. Bob Lendel, 26, from Texas, underwent surgery on September 17 to add 2 inches to his 5’9’’ frame. He left India for a holiday in Europe on Friday morning.
“I'm not even sure my friends will notice I'm taller, but it makes me feel good about myself," he said.
Was it worth it? “Yes. But I'm happy I'm done with it."
(Names of all the patients have been changed to protect their identities)