Doctors in India are witnessing a significant increase in the number of people undergoing limb-lengthening surgery even though the industry has yet to be regulated by the government.
Many of those who seek the procedure believe adding a few more inches to their height will help improve their chances to get a good job or even a desirable marriage partner. However, health experts warn that the complex surgery entails several risks, including the potential crippling of the patient if the procedure doesn't go well.
Despite these dangers, people in the South Asian nation don't seem to be discouraged since the procedure could provide them relief from the stigma of being shorter than those from neighboring countries.
There are cases where limb-lengthening surgery has helped the lives of patients, such as that of 24-year-old Komal from the town of Kota.
In 2015, Komal sought the services of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Amar Sarin in Delhi so that she could get the surgery. She and her family had to sell off their ancestral lands in order to have enough money for the procedure.
Komal underwent limb-lengthening surgery, which involved having to break her leg bones and fitting her with braces until she was able to walk again on her own. The procedure added 3 inches to her height.
While she had to give up a lot in order to have the complex surgery, Komal said that it was all worth it to have the extra height.
She explained that people used to tease her about her lack of height and that she couldn't get a job. Now she feels a lot more confident about herself.
Komal added that her younger sister is planning to have the same cosmetic operation done to her as well.
Komal is just one of the many people in India and even from other countries who flock the country just to receive limb-lengthening surgery. This has resulted in a boom for an industry that is still highly unregulated. Surgeons who perform the procedure often lack the experience to safely operate on patients.
According to Sarin, limb-lengthening is one of the most challenging cosmetic procedures to perform. However, many people still do it even if they've only received a couple of months' worth of fellowship, following the instructions of a doctor who is likely only experimenting on the procedure himself.
Sarin said there are no colleges that offer proper training on limb-lengthening surgery.
The Indian Orthopaedic Association (IOA) has stressed that it does not advise people to undergo the surgery unless it is for a few very rare cases. The group said that these kinds of procedures are not performed routinely and that there is a high risk for patients to develop complications.