Painful bid for a break with past - National -

Painful bid for a break with past - National -

HIS workmates think he has taken a year off to care for a sickrelative. His family believes he has been given an overseasposting. His best friend thinks he is travelling around Asia.

The truth is that this 42-year-old Australian IT worker issecretly undergoing a controversial medical procedure in Serbiathat he hopes will increase his height - and change his life.

Earlier this year a surgical team carefully broke both thetibias of David Elliott - not his real name - pulling the endsapart before attaching a device known as an Ilizarov frame to thebones.

By carefully manipulating the device over several months andallowing new bone to develop, doctors increased the length of MrElliott's shinbones, adding 6.5 centimetres to his overall height,which is now 1.65 metres.

He hopes a similar procedure on his femurs in the coming monthswill take him to 1.7 metres.

"Even [at the halfway point] everything is different," he saidlast week. "You feel people are getting shorter."

But while he maintains he has never been happier, he is keepinghis identity secret and is yet to come clean with those closest tohim, concerned they will worry about the process or, in the case ofworkmates, not understand.

"They would say, 'Are you mad?'," he said from rentedaccommodation in the city of Nis.

"They would have no concept what leg lengthening even is. Idon't want other people worried about me. I'll be fine. I knowexactly what I'm doing and I have considered all the risks beforecoming here."

Authorities estimate Mr Elliott is one of as many as 20Australians travelling abroad for leg-lengthening operations eachyear.

While a limited number of specialists in this country offer theprocedure, many orthopedic surgeons will not perform it purely forcosmetic reasons.

Patients determined to go ahead with the treatment are resortingto using doctors in Russia, China and Europe. Websites, such as theBritish-administered, are full of stories ofAustralians contemplating or undergoing surgery.

The trend has set alarm bells ringing with the FederalGovernment and medical authorities, both of which have concernsabout potential risks.

Botched overseas procedures can leave patients with horrendousscarring, deformities, stiff joints and other difficulties thatrequire treatment in Australia.

Standing just 158 centimetres tall at his full adult height, MrElliott said he had experienced years of discrimination from tallerpeople, some of whom treated him as a child.

A significant relationship with a girlfriend broke down underpressure related to his height, he said.

Mr Elliott, who has twice attempted suicide, estimates he willhave spent $40,000 on surgery and living costs by the time he headshome in February to come clean with his family and friends.

Professor Leo Donnan, a spokesman for the Royal AustralianCollege of Surgeons and head of orthopedic surgery at Melbourne'sRoyal Children's Hospital, was concerned about Australianstravelling overseas for cosmetic leg lengthening.

He said surgery recipients would not necessarily have all theirproblems solved by being taller, while the potential complicationswere horrendous.

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