(Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash)US surgeons have begun performing a procedure that allows patients to add three inches to their total height, and interestingly enough, most of these patients are men who work in the tech industry.
The procedure is excruciatingly painful and, as you might have already guessed, very expensive. It begins with the surgeon breaking both of the patient’s femurs with “a razor-sharp chisel,” then reconnecting the broken bone with a large titanium rod. Over the next three months, the rods are extended one millimeter per day using a magnetic remote control. This forces the tissue to create a longer bone as it heals. Once the patient has gained three inches, the surgeon can remove the rods.
That three-month period is chock-full of mobility restrictions and prescription painkillers. Bone tissue creates a soft callus as it heals, and that callus isn’t nearly as stable as healthy bone. Improper support or movement could break or deform the callus and throw off the rest of the healing process. Patients are told to use crutches to get around in the months following the procedure, lest they ruin their bones’ healing and end up back in the surgical suite. They’re also given prescription painkillers to deal with the pain, which causes some patients to worry about potential addiction.
The entire procedure costs anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000, with the rod removal costing about $20,000 alone. Because the surgery is a cosmetic procedure with no medical necessity, patients must foot the bill without the help of insurance.
That said, the price tag isn’t typically a problem for the type of patient electing to undergo this procedure. Dr. Kevin Debiparshad, one of the few doctors in the US willing to perform “height-enhancing” surgery, recently told GQ that many of his patients bankrolled the procedure using software engineering paychecks from Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Microsoft. Many of them are cisgender men looking for a little extra self-esteem, especially when it comes to romantic pursuits and landing their next promotion. A few are transgender men seeking an affirming physical appearance. Very few of Dr. Debiparshad’s patients are women (though he did tell GQ he’s done a few leg-shortening operations on trans women).
This isn’t the first time in history people have sought out height-enhancing surgery. Back in the 1950s, people with legs of different lengths could undergo the “Ilizarov procedure,” a far more medieval-looking version of Dr. Debiparshad’s routine in which the patient’s legs were broken, then scaffolded with metal braces that were attached to the bone. But this is likely the first time height-enhancing surgeries have been so accessible. Because today’s procedure is considered elective, just about anyone can seek it out—given that they have tens of thousands of dollars to spare, of course.