When Daniel Asadi was 14, he was told by his doctor that his growing phase was all but over. ‘He said I was pretty much done,’ recalls Daniel today.
At nearly 5 ft 7 in, Daniel was already a reasonable height — but the words were still a ‘stab in the heart.’
‘It’s really hard for a lot of people to understand, but I couldn’t handle it,’ he says. ‘It was this one thing I didn’t have, and it was on my mind day and night.’
Not any more. In May last year — 11 years on from that distressing doctor’s appointment — Daniel, then 25, underwent leg-lengthening surgery to gain the height he so desperately craved.
The operation is not for the faint-hearted. It involved breaking both femurs (thigh bones) and spending several months using a walker and crutches during recuperation. Yet today, now measuring just over 5 ft 10 in, Daniel would do it all again in a heartbeat.
‘Making a decision to have your legs broken seems nonsensical to many people,’ he says. ‘But for me, my life depended on it. It was all I could think of and I was willing to do anything for it.’
Nor is he alone: Daniel is just one of a growing band of men, and a smaller number of women, opting for the sometimes risky surgery in a bid to be taller.
Several clinics offering the surgery in the UK are reporting a surge in enquiries in the past year for the once-niche operation, usually employed to address traumatic injury or birth defects.
‘There is definitely increased demand,’ Matija Krkovic, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in limb reconstruction tells the Mail. ‘I am seeing several patients for a consultation next week and enquiries to my clinic have risen in the past few months — I have no idea why, as I do not actively advertise.’
A respected consultant at a UK clinic, who has chosen to remain anonymous, tells a similar story. While most of his work concerns correcting deformity and leg-length discrepancy, he is currently receiving about five enquiries a week from patients looking to lengthen both legs.
‘We talk about being “inclusive” and “diverse”, but height is a real issue, especially for men,’ he says. ‘I think life has changed: body image is very important.’
On paper of course, the idea that you can grow taller while well into adulthood seems like science fiction.
In fact, limb-lengthening was pioneered as far back as the 1950s by Gavriil Ilizarov, a Soviet doctor treating injured soldiers returning from World War II.
Before and after: Today, now measuring just over 5 ft 10 in, Daniel would do it all again in a heartbeat
Today, many of the principles employed by Ilizarov remain the same, although advances in technology mean the procedure has become far more sophisticated and safer.
Traditionally, patients undergoing leg-lengthening have a hole drilled into their femurs, which are then broken in two.
A metal rod is fitted inside and held in place by screws attached to an external ‘fixator’ which the patient uses to extend the internal rod by up to 1mm each day until reaching the desired height, after which their bones can heal back together.
Internal rods — powered by either battery packs or magnets — have abolished the need for an external frame, and thus wounds, reducing the risk of infection.
Nonetheless, like any surgery, the process is not without complications — one reason why, despite receiving several enquiries a month, Matija Krkovic is reluctant to perform it for this purpose at his Cambridge practice.
‘I’ve worked extensively with leg fractures and trauma, but a few years ago I started to be approached about leg lengthening for cosmetic reasons,’ he reveals. ‘I had some reservations — but then I realised that for a small group of people it could bring huge benefits so I decided to start offering the opportunity — but with certain caveats.’
Among them are that any patient who wants to go ahead with surgery must undergo psychological evaluation, while Krkovic starts every discussion with what can go wrong.
‘The advantage of performing the surgery for cosmetic reasons is that you have a healthy individual with healthy bones and no other injuries,’ he explains. ‘The flip side is if things go wrong you are transforming a perfectly healthy individual into someone with a lot of problems.
In May last year Daniel, then 25, underwent leg-lengthening surgery to gain the height he so desperately craved
‘Chronic infection in the bone, nerve damage, joint dislocation and the bone not healing are all possible complications. It is not high-risk, but it’s high enough for me to want to be very careful.’
Krkovic has fielded requests from men in their 50s. ‘Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis,’ he says. But most of his patients are younger men.
Indeed Daniel, now a 26-year-old civil engineer from Toronto, was fixated on his height from a young age.
‘I came from a shorter family — my dad was 5 ft 4 in, mum was about 5 ft 2 in, so genetics were not in my favour,’ he says. ‘It didn’t help that I was also always referred to as the fat kid. When you get that label it’s hard to shake it off. It affected me a lot.’
As the years passed, Daniel tried counselling to get over his agonising self-consciousness.
‘It didn’t work,’ he says. ‘I knew I had a lot of things to be grateful for — a loving family, a good job. I didn’t have problems meeting girls, either. But it all didn’t matter to me. No matter what I did, my height was always there.’
Finally, at 23, he started to research surgery.
‘I knew there was something out there, but I had never wanted to get my hopes up,’ he says.
Daniel found a clinic in Iran — the country from which his parents had emigrated — offering the surgery for $10,000 (£9,000), far less than the $100,000 (£90,000) charged by clinics in the U.S. ‘It was like a light at the end of the tunnel,’ he says.
After an online consultation he booked his flight following fraught discussions with his parents. ‘Talking to them was like World War III,’ he admits. ‘They didn’t understand.’
Finally, his father agreed to accompany him to Iran. However, the clinic asked for an extra $20,000 ‘guarantee’ upfront, to be repaid two years later.
‘It really put me off and made me think: what do they need that money for?’ he says. ‘I didn’t know what to do.’
He decided against that clinic, embarking on further research and discovering another hospital in Turkey which offered the surgery for €20,000 (about £17,000).
‘I had to borrow money as I already [had student loans], but it was something I had to do,’ he recalls.
He finally underwent the three-hour procedure last year, awaking to find his legs encased in the ‘fixators’ with which he would expand the nails in his legs by 1mm a day. ‘I felt no fear,’ he recalls. ‘This was my dream.’
Nonetheless, he admits the first three weeks were challenging. And after about two months, he developed nerve irritation in his right leg.
‘I didn’t catch it quickly enough,’ he reveals.
The only option was to halt the growth on that leg — then increased by 5cm — shorten it slightly over three days and wait.
‘Two weeks later an X-ray showed the bone had fused,’ he says. ‘It was a bad moment.’ It meant breaking his leg again.
He persevered, and in mid-September — four and a half months after his initial surgery, his external fixator was removed, and he flew home with crutches.
‘I got back to 90 per cent normal walking four months after the removal. And while I’m still a bit limited on jumping and running, those are not my concerns at all, I knew that might happen and I was cool with that. Better than cool: it felt like I was reborn,’ he says.
It’s a sentiment that orthopaedic surgeon Dr Kevin Debiparshad recognises all too well. Considered among the world experts in the procedure, he says business is ‘booming’ at his Las Vegas LimbplastX Institute, founded in 2016.
When Daniel Asadi was 14, he was told by his doctor that his growing phase was all but over/Stock image
In the past two years, Dr Debiparshad has been seeing twice the usual number of patients, sometimes as many as 50 new people a month (several from the UK) and performed leg-lengthening surgery on hundreds of clients from all over the world.
The majority who get in touch are in their 20s and 30s, while about 20 per cent are women.
‘It’s not a negligible number of women, although the typical profile is a 25 to 35-year-old male, generally reasonably financially successful,’ he says. ‘Overall the range is pretty vast. I’ve had many patients in their 70s who have contacted me — a guy flew in from Japan who was 76, although I draw the line at late 60s because of the higher risks of complications from surgery overall.’
His oldest patient to date is a British man who had the operation at 68. ‘He went from 5 ft 6 in to 5 ft 9 in and he was thrilled, although his wife needed a lot of convincing at first,’ he recalls.
Dr Debiparshad screens all patients for body dysmorphia and depression before proceeding, but believes that while on paper the surgery may seem more gruesome than other cosmetic procedures it is really little different.
‘A lot of people criticise it, but like so many of these things it starts with an element of ridicule and then it becomes more accepted,’ he says. ‘I think also there is more of a taboo around male cosmetic surgery,’ he says.
That doesn’t stop the enquiries flooding in. ‘I get a lot of guys in finance — it’s a boardroom thing, they think height gives them an edge,’ he says. ‘But often it goes much deeper. People tend to think that short men want the height to attract tall women, but really it’s about how they see themselves.
‘Take the 68-year-old British guy — here’s a man who has been hugely successful in business and happily married for decades but his height was still intrinsically important.’
Height, certainly, appears to be among one of the last remaining social stigmas — and even accepted prejudices. According to a 2009 Australian study, shorter men make less money than their taller peers and are less likely to climb the corporate ladder (the average height of a male Fortune 500 CEO is 6ft).
It was acute self-consciousness that led David, a 28-year-old accountant from Bristol, to undergo surgery at a British clinic three years ago to take him from 5 ft 6 in to 5 ft 9 in.
David took out a loan to cover the £70,000 cost which he is still repaying, but says it has been worth every penny thanks to the boost in confidence that he feels.
‘I am still not tall, but it has taken me from “short” to “average”,’ he says. ‘It means I stand taller in not just the literal sense but psychologically. When you grow up as the short guy it leaves a legacy. You feel defined by it.’
Nonetheless, like Daniel, David’s parents were horrified when he told them about his decision. ‘I had to plead with them to support me as I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time and I knew that I needed their help during the recovery period,’ he says.
They relented, and after he was released from hospital six days after the operation, he recovered at the family home. ‘It wasn’t easy,’ he says. ‘At times the pain was really tough. It’s not isolated pain. It feels like every nerve in your leg is being stretched. You just have to grit your teeth and endure it.’
David was back to ‘good as normal’ movement seven months after surgery, and today is able to run and go to the gym as normal. ‘I can honestly say I had zero complications,’ he says, adding: ‘It’s been life-changing.’
He also has a new girlfriend. And, though he says she would never admit it, David is certain she would never have gone out with him if he had been those precious few inches shorter.