That is the story of Mrs. Nguyen Thi M who is a 36 years old woman from Hanoi. Although she has 3 children, she still wishes to be 5.6 cm tall. She sought leg lengthening surgery even though she had received disapproval from everyone.
M. is only 1.47 cm tall. Her modest height always made this mother of three feel inferior. Mrs. M. had a stable job and a happy family, but when her children get older, she began to want to have something done for herself. The first thing this mother wanted was to get leg lengthening procedure for her legs.
Mrs. M. and her husband went to the hospital to consult with the doctor. Although the doctor said that she needed to consider it because she was already over the age of 35, the age that was not recommended to have any intervention, Mrs. M. was still determined.
Seeing his wife so determined, Mrs. M’s husband did not dare to dissuade her. To prepare for the leg lengthening osteotomy, Mrs. M. resigned from her job and found someone to take care of her family as well as her during her legs’ recovery time.
It was very similar with the case of Tran N.H., 21, from Ho Chi Minh City. H. was an international student in Northern Europe. During his time living among big people, this male student always felt inferior because he was quite short (1.64m). Although he wore high-soled shoes, compared to his friends, H was still short. H. learned about leg lengthening surgery and decided to take a year off to return to Vietnam for surgery. H. came to us to express his wish.
The surgery helped increase H’s height by 7cm which is what H and his family have always wished for.
Assoc. Prof. Doan said that leg lengthening is everyone’s need, however patients will receive strict prescription from the doctor. In order to achieve good results, the doctor will provide advices to each patient.
According to Assoc. Prof. Doan, in theory, in order to perform leg lengthening, you have to cut the bone, then use a tool to pull the two parts bone apart. When stretched, the two parts of the bone gradually move away from each other, forming a gap at first. The periosteum is the place where osteoblasts will regenerate and grow into new bone.
However, depending on the location and age of each person, the regeneration rate will be fast or slow. The younger you are, the faster you can regenerate. For the restored bone to become as strong and big as healthy bones, from the time the stretching begins, the rate should be between 35 and 40 days for 1cm.
The principle of limb lengthening, which is still applied today, was established from 1951, nearly 70 years ago. The principle is to perform osteotomy, then stretch it at a rate of 1mm per day.
Before, doctors had to pierce 8 nails through the bone and install an external fixator to slowly stretch at a rate of 1mm per day. When stretching to reach the desired height, the patient had to wear the fixator for 7-10 months, even up to the next 12 months for the bone to solidify, before it can be removed.
That means the patient had to wear the fixator during the whole procedure, so it was very cumbersome during daily activities, not to mention there were complications such as pin site infection, misalignment or rotation of the axis, and limb deformities during stretching.
Currently, 108 Military Central Hospital has applied new innovation to the procedure. Before osteotomy is performed, the doctors will put a nail in the cavity of the bone marrow. They has also improved the fixator by using only 4 small nails pierced through the 2 ends of the bone.
When the leg is stretched to full length, the fixator will be removed. The nail located in the cavity will hold the role of fixation while waiting for the bone cavity to solidify.
Leg lengthening surgery is a very difficult surgery, so almost not everyone can do it. In Northern Vietnam, there has been only 108 leg lengthening surgeries. Surgery can also result in complications which can put a lot of weight on the doctors’ shoulders.
If the doctor’s skills are not good, complications can occur. Complications during surgery can also occur such as improper osteotomy, broken bones, or vascular and nerve damage. Not to mention infectious complications.
Osteomyelitis is also considered a failure when it happens to leg lengthening patients. They may also experience post-operative complications like when the stretching begins. These complications include slow bone healing, nonunion, weak bone cavity.
Up to now, the hospital has performed for about 500 cases. No complications have been recorded and everyone is satisfied because they have improved their height. After stretching, the soft tissues (tendons, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments) will not be able to respond to the new situation immediately.
Therefore, the patient needs to do rehabilitation exercise for a while; the duration will depend on the condition and the stretching rate.