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Agence France Presse "Short people get a leg up in new Russian clinic" April 04, 1997

Copyright 1997 Agence France Presse

Agence France Presse

April 04, 1997 04:13 GMT

SECTION: International news

Short people get a leg up in new Russian clinic

BYLINE: Marielle Eudes


BODY: From the banks of the Volga River comes important news for the "vertically challenged."
Using technology developed in the Soviet era, doctors in Volgograd, in Russia's deep south, claim they can make short people three to 12 centimeters (one to 4-1/2 inches) taller. How? With an orthopedic apparatus that realigns a patient's bone structure in the legs.
"It is placed around the leg, with fine points penetrating into the skin and fixing onto the bone," said Mikhail Goldreer, who is promoting a center dedicated to the operation.
"Slowly, the form or length (of the limb) is modified. Altogether, with necessary physical exercises to strengthen the bone structure, the process takes six months," he said.
Goldreer, a former electrial engineer, said he went through the process himself, growing six centimeters (nearly three inches) to 1.76 meters (six-foot-nine).
His days as a relatively short man ended in 1992, after he spent years trying to convince Soviet communist party cadres, then Russian health authorities, to let him have the treatment.
Developed in the 1960s by Professor Gavril Ilizarov, it had already been put to good use to help mend the legs of accident victims. It is known in many other countries, including the United States, but principally for the correction of deformed limbs.
One of Ilizarov's disciples, Professor Mikhail Yegorov, "stretched" Goldreer in 1992, but operations then still had to be done clandestinely.
Now they are more frequent and open, although the list of patients is an elite one, including popular singer Vika Tsiganova, the anonymous wife of a Russian cabinet minister and the head of a metals conglomerate, Goldreer said.
Russia's economic crisis helped. With little money left in the state treasury, health facilites are looking for new ways to bring in funds -- and as a consequence, official conservatism is overcome.
From the clinic in a park, Yegorov and his team has been offering their body-extending services since February, complete with sauna, tennis, swimming pool, beauty center and plastic surgery.
Surgeons and assistants have been trained in recent months in Moscow.
And now, with support from the local Voltair tire factory's sports center, "we now are ready to welcome foreign clients," Goldreer said. "We hope to become a profitable center, known the world over," he said.
In Paris, Professor Henri Bensahel of Robert Debre hospital said the technique has been used for medical purposes on very short people.
He himself recalled one instance in which he performed the operation on a youngster who was 1.45 meters tall (four-foot-eight).
Its use for esthetic purposes is "an interesting social phenomenon", he said.
But Goldreer said it was worth it: "The operation hurts a bit at the beginning, but it leaves no scars."