New York Man 'Grows' Six Inches Through Surgery

ABC News

At five foot, six inches, Apotheosis was shorter than the average American male and very unhappy about it.

So he did something other men who feel short might consider unthinkable: he opted for costly, painful surgeries to make himself "grow" a total of six inches.

"I realized that the world looked at me a certain way that I didn't look at myself in that certain way," said the 37-year-old New Yorker, who goes by the pseudonym "Apotheosis" in online forums and asked that "20/20" not use his real name. "I wanted the way I felt about myself and the way the world felt about me to be similar."

Apotheosis is one of a "growing" number of men pursuing limb-lengthening procedures for cosmetic reasons.

Dr. Dror Paley, a renowned osteopathic surgeon at the Paley Institute at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., performed 650 leg-lengthening surgeries last year.

Most of Paley's patients have severe deformities or dwarfism, but he also sees cosmetic patients.

"The majority who come for cosmetic limb lengthening have what we call, height dysphoria. They're unhappy with their height," said Paley, adding that therapy has little effect on changing a patient's views. "It's one of the few psychologic-psychiatric disorders that you can actually cure with the knife."

That is precisely the reason why Akash Shukla, 25, decided to undergo the procedure. At age 18, the New Jersey man was devastated to find out that his final height would be 4'11 ½.

"I felt like my short stature was kind of causing a void inside me- an emptiness in my heart, if you will," he said.

And not everyone was encouraging.

"There are people that have said, 'just accept what God gave you. But, in some way, shape or form everybody is trying to alter what god gave them. If God gave kids crooked teeth, they get braces," said Shukla, who is now almost 5'2" thanks to the surgery.

But limb lengthening is certainly not like straightening teeth.

Only a few doctors, including Paley, perform the procedure in the United States.

Surgeons break the leg bone in two and implant a state-of-the-art telescopic rod into the middle of the broken bones which then pulls the bone apart very slowly, about one millimeter a day.

New bone grows around it and tissues like the muscle, the nerves, the arteries, and the skin, regenerate as well.

At about $85,000, the procedure is expensive and the process lengthy. It takes at least three months to complete it and it requires demanding and excruciating physical therapy.

Apotheosis is still in recovery and he does not want to go public even though this is his second surgery. "I am still lengthening right now and there could be further complications and I don't want to talk about it successfully until it's been successful."

But he is candid about his leg lengthening journey on www.makemetaller.org, an online forum for people interested in the procedure.

"I am not telling anyone they should do this surgery, but I am laying out my experiences and the risks that I have taken and the successes that I have had and let people make their own decision," he said.

Many go to the site looking for advice on doctors, often foreign, as the cost for the surgery could be less than half as much overseas.

Apotheosis traveled to Germany to have internal rods implanted and now he is the one responsible for controlling the lengthening, twisting his legs back and forth to extend the rod inside.

Despite the pain and financial burden, patients like Apotheosis say those few more inches of height can make a big difference.

"When I walk down the street a different person perceived differently by the world for the rest of my life, you know, I am who I want to be now," he said.

He chose the moniker Apotheosis, he said, because "it means to become godlike -- become the best you can be. It's a Greek word."

"And that's kind of what I want? And I am not trying to be godlike; I am trying to be the best me that I can be."

Watch the full story on "The Cutting Edge," a "20/20" special, TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.

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