A lucrative—if extremely risky—global industry has cropped up to perform a bone-breaking procedure that stimulates growth and can increase height by up to five inches. Doctors in Greece, China, Egypt, India, and Ukraine now offer the six-month procedure for about $15,000, mostly to medical tourists. “There are a lot more clinics popping up internationally, and this is a very worrisome thing,” says Dror Paley, codirector of the International Center for Limb Lengthening in Baltimore, Maryland. “I’ve seen disasters from some of them. One kid treated in India hasn’t walked in years. They destroyed his feet.”
Dean Cole, a trauma surgeon at the Florida Hospital Fracture Care Center, has repaired problems from about 10 operations he didn’t do; the first of these patients showed up only two years ago. “A man treated in Russia had bone infections, huge quantities of pus, and bones that didn’t heal and were crooked,” he says. Last November, the Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese health ministry banned cosmetic leg lengthening after 10 people were disfigured in 2005.