Australian Woman Undergoes Leg Surgery To Increase Height
Australia's Hajnal Ban asked doctors to keep her conscious as they broke her legs and attached them to stretching frames since she wanted to remember it as the moment that changed her life.
For as long as she could remember the 31-year-old lawyer and politician had felt deeply insecure about her height, but had resigned herself to life at 1.54 metres (just over five feet).
"If you're not happy with the other parts of your body you can change them through fairly routine cosmetic surgery but this is something that couldn't be fixed," Ban told AFP.
"For a long time I thought nothing could be done."
It was a chance conversation with friends as a 23-year-old that first alerted Ban to the concept of limb lengthening, a cosmetic procedure popular in China, Italy and the United States but little-known in Australia.
"My ears just pricked up and I thought 'wow, this is incredible'," Ban said.
After months of standing in front of the mirror on top of phone books the Israel-born Ban said she saved enough for the 30,000 US dollar operation and travelled to the Ilizarov clinic at Kurgan, in the Siberian depths of Russia.
Doctors fed 14 wires through the flesh, soft tissue, muscle and bone of both legs to suspend them in circular stretching frames, and then broke them in two places.
"I had an epidural so I was awake for the whole thing, it was a four-hour operation," Ban said.
"I know this sounds quite weird and a lot of people probably won't understand it, but I was so excited. It was a day that I had been waiting for for such a long time, I relished that four hours.
"I was laying there and I recall quite vividly thinking this is just great, I'm finally here, I'm getting this done and it's going to change my life forever."
Over the next nine months Ban's legs were stretched every day as the broken bones healed, eventually boosting her to a height of 1.62 metres (5 feet 4 inches).
Once the frames were removed Ban spent another three months with both legs in plaster, and it was a "good solid year," she said, before she was "back to wearing heels and back to normal life".
Australian genetics researcher Sylvia Metcalfe said the intensive procedure was mainly used in Australia for people with dwarfism, and its cosmetic application was questioned by some.
"One of the most controversial aspects is people's perceptions of themselves," she said.
Side-effects and complications could include disfigurement, muscle, joint and nerve damage, infection, arthritis and chronic pain, Metcalfe said.
Following a series of botched operations, Beijing in 2006 banned the surgery, which was performed there for the image conscious by a largely unregulated beauty industry.
Popular among young Chinese professionals who believed height would help them climb the career ladder, the procedure was developed in Russia to help patients with birth defects such as dwarfism.
Under the 2006 ban, only hospitals that conducted at least 400 orthopedic operations a year and offered post-surgical care and rehabilitation were allowed to continue the surgery, and only on strictly medical grounds.
Ban kept the operation a secret from all but her closest family and friends, and said many were shocked.
"It is extreme, it is different and it is unique," she said.
"But I don't judge people about how they look and I don't want people to judge me and who I am based on a medical decision that I made seven years ago."
Now a qualified barrister with two university degrees, Ban was elected to Queensland state's Logan City Council in 2006 and made a failed bid for Australian parliament in 2007.
Following the operation, Ban said her height insecurity "just seemed to vanish" and she had a new confidence in her professional credibility.
"But I guess had I not had this operation I probably wouldn't be insecure about my height at this age because I would just accept who I am," she conceded.
"As you get older as a woman I think you become more mellow and you become more comfortable in your own skin."
Despite this, Ban said she had no regrets and refused to be judged for the message her story could send to young women.
"A lot of women can look within and find happiness within but there are a lot of women, just through the way that society is and the pressure that we have, have insecurity and have some self-doubt," said Ban.
"I think harnessing or using surgery that's out there for cosmetic applications is acceptable if it makes people feel good about themselves.
"I'm an advocate for women feeling good about themselves by whatever means necessary and available."