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Yoga teacher, 36, with dwarfism underwent four years of painful limb lengthening surgery

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A yoga teacher who was born with dwarfism has revealed how she underwent limb lengthening surgery as a teenager to stretch her body 14 inches.

Kristen DeAndrade, 36, suffered from the rare genetic condition achondroplasia dwarfism which prevents bone growth in the legs and arms.

Aged just 12, she decided to undergo terrifying bone-breaking surgery to stretch her limbs. 

A yoga teacher who was born with dwarfism has revealed how she underwent limb lengthening surgery as a teenager to stretch her body 14 inches (pictured as she is today)

A yoga teacher who was born with dwarfism has revealed how she underwent limb lengthening surgery as a teenager to stretch her body 14 inches (pictured as she is today)

Kristen DeAndrade, 36, suffered from the rare genetic condition achondroplasia dwarfism which prevents bone growth in the legs and arms (pictured at the start of her surgery, age 12)

Kristen DeAndrade, 36, suffered from the rare genetic condition achondroplasia dwarfism which prevents bone growth in the legs and arms (pictured at the start of her surgery, age 12)

The author, from West Palm Beach, Florida, US, shot up from 3ft9 to 4ft11 after four years of surgery (pictured aged 16)

The author, from West Palm Beach, Florida, US, shot up from 3ft9 to 4ft11 after four years of surgery (pictured aged 16)

The author, from West Palm Beach, Florida, US, shot up from 3ft9 to 4ft11 but her decision has caused a stir within the dwarfism community.

Kristen said: ‘I saw the surgery as a way of living a more functional, independent life in a world built for a person of average height.

‘As a child, I experienced a lot of medical difficulties because of my achondroplasia, like ear infections.

‘I also struggled to navigate through public places. Toilets were too high, and I couldn’t reach light switches.

Kristen's struggles as a child were key in her decision to go ahead with limb lengthening surgery

Kristen’s struggles as a child were key in her decision to go ahead with limb lengthening surgery

‘My school had to adapt everything for me, I had my own table with little boxes to help me get up to my chair.’

Kristen’s struggles as a child were key in her decision to go ahead with limb lengthening surgery.

She discovered Dr Paley, a specialist in limb lengthening surgeries who operated in the Maryland Centre For Limb Lengthening And Reconstruction.

Kristen went through her first limb lengthening procedure in June 1998.

Kristen is now an advocate for the procedure and a motivational speaker and has written a book, Little Legs, Big Heart

Kristen is now an advocate for the procedure and a motivational speaker and has written a book, Little Legs, Big Heart

Kristen defends her decision as she is now able to navigate the world like everyone else despite criticism from some quarters

Kristen defends her decision as she is now able to navigate the world like everyone else despite criticism from some quarters

Kristen went through her first limb lengthening procedure in June 1998 after deciding to undergo surgery aged just 12

Kristen went through her first limb lengthening procedure in June 1998 after deciding to undergo surgery aged just 12

She went on to have the procedure repeatedly over the space of four years.

The surgery involved Kristen having her bones broken, with external fixators added to help stretch out the healing bone. 

A hole is drilled into the leg bone to break it into and a metal rod is then inserted and held in place by screws. 

The rod is slowly lengthened until the patient reaches the desired height and the bones can then heal back together.

She said: ‘I was about 12 when I had my first surgery.

‘They stretched out my lower legs, the tibias first, to six inches long.

‘When I had my legs lengthened, Dr Paley actually straightened out my legs which were bowing outward.

‘Then I had four inches on my arms.

Thanks to her surgery, Kristen now works as a yoga teacher and has delayed or solved many of her limb problems

Thanks to her surgery, Kristen now works as a yoga teacher and has delayed or solved many of her limb problems

The surgery involved Kristen having her bones broken, with external fixators added to help stretch out the healing bone

The surgery involved Kristen having her bones broken, with external fixators added to help stretch out the healing bone

Aged 29, Kristen lost the feeling below her waist and had to undergo surgery again with Dr Feldman (pictured right)

Aged 29, Kristen lost the feeling below her waist and had to undergo surgery again with Dr Feldman (pictured right) 

How limb-lengthening works

Limb-lengthening is a procedure to extend bones in the arms or legs. 

It is a gradual process that slowly increases the length of both bones and soft tissues (skin, muscles, nerves). 

The leg bone is broken in two places before a state-of-the-art telescopic rod is implanted into the cartilage of the bone.

The orthopedic device is then gradually adjusted to pull apart – usually at a rate of one millimetre a day –  so that it slowly separates the two bone segments.

New living bone then grows to fill the gap and increases the overall length of the limb, but will not be considered ‘healed’ until this regenerate bone has hardened and calcified.

Muscles, nerves, arteries and skin also renew themselves.

Source: limblength.org

‘When I had my upper legs lengthened, specifically the femurs, Dr Paley also corrected the deformity I had in my hip joint.’

During the surgery on her arms, the doctor corrected an elbow deformity which allowed her arms to hang down at her side and rest comfortably.

Not only did her arms gain four inches in length but Kristen said it removed a chronic pain. 

Kristen added: ‘Each month, my limbs would be stretched an extra inch, and then there’d be an extra month for consolidation.

‘It was four years of back-to-back procedures and healing.

‘In that time, I had to learn how to walk again and to learn to love my scars.’

After having her first procedure, Kristen was finally able to reach the kitchen counter, enabling her to learn how to cook and help her mum in the kitchen.

At 16, after her limb lengthening procedures had finished, she celebrated by gaining her driver’s licence.

Aged 29, Kristen unexpectedly lost sensation from the waist down and she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.

She underwent surgery again with Dr David Feldman at the Paley Institute who helped her recover the feeling in her legs. 

But not everyone agrees with her decision to be taller.

She said: ‘There are some people in the dwarfism community who claim it to be cosmetic surgery.

‘They have said that I should love my body for who I am and that I should be ashamed for wanting to be like everyone else. ‘

Yet Kristen defends her decision as she is now able to navigate the world like everyone else.

Kristen's parents Lynn and Joe (pictured) are both of average height and supported her decision

Kristen’s parents Lynn and Joe (pictured) are both of average height and supported her decision 

During the surgery on her arms, the doctor corrected an elbow deformity which allowed her arms to hang down at her side and rest comfortably

During the surgery on her arms, the doctor corrected an elbow deformity which allowed her arms to hang down at her side and rest comfortably

She said: ‘I knew from a young age that I wanted the surgery.

‘Both my parents Lynn, 73 and Joe, 70 are both of average height.

‘From the start, they supported me in my decision making. ‘  

With her experience’s achondroplasia and limb lengthening, Kristen is now an advocate for the procedure and a motivational speaker and has written a book, Little Legs, Big Heart. 

She said: ‘For me, the surgery was my view into the future.

‘A future of being independent and the ability to navigate an average-sized world free of pain.

‘Adults with dwarfism tend to have a lot of health issues, and after my limb lengthening, I’ve delayed a lot of those problems.’ 

What is Achondroplasia? 

Achondroplasia is a form of short-limbed dwarfism. The word achondroplasia literally means ‘without cartilage formation’. However, the problem is not in forming cartilage but in converting it to bone, particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs.

All people with achondroplasia have short stature. The average height of an adult male with achondroplasia is four feet, four inches, and the average height for adult females is four feet, one inch.

Characteristic features of achondroplasia include an average-size trunk, short arms and legs with particularly short upper arms and thighs, limited range of motion at the elbows, and an enlarged head with a prominent forehead. 

Fingers are typically short and the ring finger and middle finger may diverge, giving the hand a three-pronged (trident) appearance.

Health problems commonly associated with achondroplasia include episodes in which breathing slows or stops for short periods (apnea), obesity, and recurrent ear infections.

Source: nih.gov.



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