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Limb Lengthening

Accidents and congenital deformities can result in one limb being shorter than other, a condition which not only affects self-esteem but can cause excruciating pain and even lead to arthritis.

CBS 2's Paul Moniz reports that limb lengthening is a remarkable surgery that actually make arms and legs grow longer.

In the summer of 1999, Dr. Bonnie Reichman was in the prime of her life, a prominent Manhattan breast cancer specialist with a booming practice until an ill-fated boating trip on Martha's Vineyard.

"They started the engine and the boat exploded," she remembers. "I was thrown in the air onto the dock." The impact nearly tore off her left ankle, broke her hip and shattered her right heel. Doctors in Boston managed to close the gaping ankle wound but bone grafts didn't take; then came the devastating so-called solution.

"I told them if they cut my leg off I'd kill myself," Dr. Reichman says.

Refusing to consider amputation, Bonnie turned to orthopedic surgeon, Robert Rozbruch of Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Rozbruch had a difficult task not only resolving Bonnie's infections, but closing the gap between her lower leg and ankle where the initial bone grafts didn't take and lengthening her upper leg so both legs would be the same size.

Using a procedure developed by the Russians to heal soldiers during World War II, Dr. Rozbruch is using metal frames to actually lengthen Bonnie's leg. He first breaks the bone then slowly pulls it apart using struts and bolts.

"We're fooling the body," he explains. "As the body is trying to heal the fracture, we're pulling the bone apart and new bone is forming the gap."

X-rays show the remarkable results of new bone growth. The procedure has helped dozens shed their orthopedic shoes by making limbs the same size.

X-rays show Bonnie has grown about three inches of new bone and her legs are also even now. After 6 more months in the brace, she's expected to walk unassisted.

Limb lengthening, which is covered by insurance, does carry risks including infection and nerve damage but both are rare.

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