Woman has unique surgery for shot at Hollywood success

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·7-min read

How far would you go to put yourself head and shoulders above the rest?

One woman has taken the old saying quite literally, opting to spend almost $100,000 on surgery to lengthen her legs and increase her overall height by 2.5 inches.

Emily with her surgeon, Dr Debiparshad, two months after her leg lengthening procedure. Photo: supplied.
Emily with her surgeon, Dr Debiparshad, two months after her leg lengthening procedure. Photo: supplied.

Caught short

Emily, a Los Angeles-based media and entertainment professional, tells Yahoo Lifestyle in an exclusive chat that she’s been conscious of her 5ft 2in (157cm) frame since childhood.

“My dad is on the shorter side but my mum is a bit taller,” she says.

“Some of my friends and relatives expected me to grow taller [like my mum] but I didn’t and they were surprised. Now I know that height is inherited from the father’s side,” she adds.

While Emily’s friends eventually outgrew their mothers, she never surpassed either of her parents.

An intelligent and feisty go-getter at heart, Emily left her home in Eastern Europe in the mid-2000s to settle in the US. Since then she’s forged a successful career in the male-dominated world of computing, specifically working with big Hollywood studios.

But the way she’s perceived by others, particularly in the office, due to her petite stature has always played on her mind.

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Emily's X-ray prior to going under the knife in August 2020. Photo: supplied.
Emily's X-ray prior to going under the knife in August 2020. Photo: supplied.

“I always felt as I wasn’t always taken seriously for a few reasons, such as being female, an immigrant and a petite woman,” Emily explains.

“I have to be ferocious because I’m so small and I have to prove myself more than some Amazon-type woman,” she adds.

While she admits that her height wasn’t impacting directly on running her own business she did feel the need to project a more ‘powerful message’ to her clients, suppliers and team.

“I wanted to close this gap between my personality and my perception of myself,” she says.

Cosmetic limb-lengthening

About four years ago Emily heard about a new cosmetic limb-lengthening procedure in the States that claimed to add up to six inches (15cm) to patients’ height.

“I started reading online forums and gathering as much information on doctors, technology, location and recovery timelines. The surgery is not something that is mainstream as yet.

“It is also expensive and at the time I didn’t have the means.”

Eventually, after much research, Emily chose to have the procedure at the LimbplastX Institute, established in Las Vegas by Harvard-trained surgeon and orthopedic surgery specialist, Dr Debiparshad, in 2018.

Dr Debiparshad tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the LimbplastX cosmetic limb-lengthening procedure is a ‘minimally invasive’ surgery in which the femur (thigh bone) or tibia (lower leg bone) is safely lengthened.

A surgeon makes four to six small incisions into the patient’s leg and, with the guidance of X-ray, an implant device is inserted into the hollow part of the bone then locked into position using screws. The device, called PRECICE implant nails, is what lengthens the leg over several weeks post-surgery via an external remote control used by the patient.

Each day, with the touch of a button, the leg is stretched 1mm until the ideal height is achieved and the bone is allowed to regenerate. As the implant is entirely internal, there is minimal scarring compared with an external implant.

Steep cost

That extra height doesn’t come cheap. On the Institute’s website, the femur lengthening procedure is quoted at $99,000 while the tibia is quoted at over $110k — both quotes exclude an additional $13k in expenses that may or may not be required.

Then, one to two years later, the nails will need to be surgically removed at a cost of up to $26,000.

When asked about the price, Dr Debiparshad referred to the cutting-edge technology involved.

“Although limb-lengthening and limb reconstruction surgery has been around for more than 80 years, this particular technology using a full weight-bearing FDA cleared implant has been around only since 2018.

“It is the best technology on the market, to date, to perform this surgery.”

An X-ray of Emily's legs taken two months after the surgery that saw her gain 2.5in in height. Photo: supplied.
An X-ray of Emily's legs taken two months after the surgery that saw her gain 2.5in in height. Photo: supplied.

Nevertheless, it’s a huge financial outlay, one which Emily was happy to make to ensure she received the best treatment possible.

“I could’ve done this procedure [in another country] for a fraction of the cost but I didn’t want to take the risk,” she explains. She encourages anyone interested in the procedure to do their homework, find the best doctor they can afford and budget for a ‘financial cushion’ to cover things like aftercare and support.

Then there are the risks to be considered, including a risk of infection or transfusion similar to any other type of surgical procedure or, specific to this surgery, the bone may heal too quickly, not fast enough or you could experience muscle tightening.

“Additionally, you could lose some athletic ability... You can run and go to the gym, but you might not be able to sprint 100 meters in nine seconds with your newfound stature,” Dr Debiparshad explains.

“Remember, you’re trading this height improvement for something; you don’t get it for free,” he adds.

Under the knife

After the COVID-19 outbreak shut down elective surgery and delayed her original plans earlier this year, Emily finally went under the knife in early August.

She says that the procedure itself was “fairly straightforward” and that the initial post-surgery pain was manageable with medication. Without family in the US, Emily opted to hire a professional carer to stay with her during her two-week recovery in a Las Vegas hotel near to the hospital.

During that time, she says she began to move around with the help of a walking stick, attend physical therapy and begin the ‘painless’ lengthening process using the remote. For Emily, that meant three one-minute sessions a day to extend the leg 0.33mm each time.

After that, she returned to LA where she experienced “ups and downs” as she healed.

“Compared to what I anticipated it was a relatively pain-free experience. To my surprise, I stopped taking pain killers three weeks after surgery and I only take them every now and then,” she says.

X rays of chinese patients after surgery at the Institute of External Skeletal Fixation, an hospital specialized in legs lengthening surgeries on January 16, 2012 in Beijing, China. Limb lengthening is an orthopaedic procedure that gained popularity in the late 1980s in the United States. The technology is based on the principle of bone regeneration, meaning that a bone can be cut, gradually pulled apart and grows together again. Legs lengthening can be no more than 10 cm for the tibia or lower leg bone, or 8 cm for a femur or thighbone. (Photo by Olivier CHOUCHANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Unlike the LimbplastX technique, patients at Beijing's Institute of External Skeletal Fixation in 2012 were fitted with external apparatus to lengthen their limbs. Photo: Getty Images.

Challenging taboos

Emily decided not to tell her friends in LA nor her family back in Eastern Europe about her plans at first for fear that they’d try to change her mind.

“I’d made my decision and I didn’t want to use my energy to try to convince them otherwise,” she says.

When she did inform her close friends, they were unfortunately not supportive.

“Leg lengthening is still a controversial topic even in Los Angeles where people do all sorts of things to their bodies,” she says.

She hopes the procedure will one day become mainstream like other more socially accepted procedures like breast augmentation, nose jobs and tummy tucks.

While Dr Debiparshad says that he’s seen a ‘steady increase’ in patient interest over the past two years, despite the cultural taboo around ‘body modification’ and the poor reputation of ‘archaic methods.’

“Previous limb-lengthening methods have been seen as too risky or painful, which in itself can deter people from considering the procedure.

“Cosmetic limb-lengthening has gained traction around the world in recent years, specifically in the United States, due to the benefits offered by minimally-invasive surgery options in enhancing the appearance of a person, advancements in healthcare and technology, and ease of recovery compared to past archaic methods like the Ilizarov apparatus.”

He says that 85 per cent of his patients are men in their 20s with an average height of 5ft 6in, looking to add about three inches.

Standing tall

Today, Emily is walking unassisted with a bit of stiffness and has almost completed her daily leg lengthening. She’s also keen to start weight-bearing exercises once her gym re-opens — and refresh her footwear collection.

“I’m looking forward to throwing away my high heels. I was so happy to buy a bunch of boots without a heel,” she admits.

Despite the less than positive response from some of her loved ones, Emily doesn’t regret her decision one bit.

“I don’t think anybody takes this procedure lightly and I’m very happy with the result.”

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