Last updated on Nov 4th, 2015 at 02:16 pm

Australian Hajnal Ban asked doctors to keep her conscious as
they broke her legs and attached them to stretching frames because
she wanted to remember it as the moment that changed her life.

For as long as she could remember the 31-year-old lawyer and
politician had felt deeply insecure about her height, but had
resigned herself to life at 1.54 metres (just over five feet).

“If you’re not happy with the other parts of your body you can
change them through fairly routine cosmetic surgery but this is
something that couldn’t be fixed,” Ban told AFP.

“For a long time I thought nothing could be done.”

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Limb lengthening discovered

It was a chance conversation with friends as a 23-year-old that
first alerted Ban to the concept of limb lengthening — a cosmetic
procedure popular in China, Italy and the United States but
little-known in Australia.

“My ears just pricked up and I thought ‘wow, this is
incredible’,” Ban said.

After months of standing in front of the mirror on top of phone
books the Israel-born Ban said she saved enough for the 30,000 US
dollar operation and travelled to the Ilizarov clinic at Kurgan, in
the Siberian depths of Russia.

Legs broken in two places and stretched

Doctors fed 14 wires through the flesh, soft tissue, muscle and
bone of both legs to suspend them in circular stretching frames,
and then broke them in two places.

“I had an epidural so I was awake for the whole thing, it was a
four-hour operation,” Ban said.

“I know this sounds quite weird and a lot of people probably
won’t understand it, but I was so excited. It was a day that I had
been waiting for for such a long time, I relished that four hours.

“I was laying there and I recall quite vividly thinking this is
just great, I’m finally here, I’m getting this done and it’s going
to change my life forever.”

Legs stretched daily as bones healed

Over the next nine months Ban’s legs were stretched every day as
the broken bones healed, eventually boosting her to a height of
1.62 metres (5 feet 4 inches).

Once the frames were removed Ban spent another three months with
both legs in plaster, and it was a “good solid year,” she said,
before she was “back to wearing heels and back to normal life”.

Extreme measures

Australian genetics researcher Sylvia Metcalfe said the
intensive procedure was mainly used in Australia for people with
dwarfism, and its cosmetic application was questioned by some.

“One of the most controversial aspects is people’s perceptions
of themselves,” she said.

Side-effects and complications could include disfigurement,
muscle, joint and nerve damage, infection, arthritis and chronic
pain, Metcalfe said.

Beijing banned this type of surgery

Following a series of botched operations, Beijing in 2006 banned
the surgery, which was performed there for the image conscious by a largely unregulated beauty industry.

Popular among young Chinese professionals who believed height
wold help them climb the career ladder, the procedure was developed in Russia to help patients with birth defects such as dwarfism.

Under the 2006 ban, only hospitals that conducted at least 400
orthopedic operations a year and offered post-surgical care and
rehabilitation were allowed to continue the surgery, and only on
strictly medical grounds.

Ban kept op a secret

Ban kept the operation a secret from all but her closest family
and friends, and said many were shocked.

“It is extreme, it is different and it is unique,” she said.

“But I don’t judge people about how they look and I don’t want
people to judge me and who I am based on a medical decision that I
made seven years ago.”

Now a qualified barrister with two university degrees, Ban was
elected to Queensland state’s Logan City Council in 2006 and made a failed bid for Australian parliament in 2007.
Following the operation, Ban said her height insecurity “just seemed to vanish” and she had a new confidence in her professional credibility.

“But I guess had I not had this operation I probably wouldn’t be
insecure about my height at this age because I would just accept
who I am,” she conceded.

“As you get older as a woman I think you become more mellow and
you become more comfortable in your own skin.”

No regrets about stretching

Despite this, Ban said she had no regrets and refused to be
judged for the message her story could send to young women.

“A lot of women can look within and find happiness within but
there are a lot of women, just through the way that society is and
the pressure that we have, have insecurity and have some
self-doubt,” said Ban.

“I think harnessing or using surgery that’s out there for
cosmetic applications is acceptable if it makes people feel good
about themselves.

“I’m an advocate for women feeling good about themselves by
whatever means necessary and available.”