Thirty-five-year-old Herbert Chavez wants to make history. He wants to be the first Filipino Superman—in the physical sense. He’s already gone through several surgeries to reconstruct his features into the image of the popular American comic book superhero. He estimates he’s also swallowed cartons of gluthatione to transform his kayumanggi skin into a luminous white. Only one thing remains before he completes his metamorphosis: his height.
Chavez only stands at 5’7 while Superman is 6’3; he needs to grow seven more inches—a big gap to fill. The good news is it can be done.
The surgical procedure is called Ilizarov Method. Developed in Siberia by Dr. Gavriil Ilizarov in the ‘50s to help mend the broken bones of war veterans, the procedure entails cutting a centimeter off the limb to promote bone regeneration.
“Yung balat, utak, o heart pagka-nagkasugat. peklat yun,” explains Dr. Juanito Javier, the pioneer of the Ilizarov Method in the Philippines. “Pero ang bone pagka-nagkasugat, fumo-form din ng bone.”
Based on this discovery, the procedure evolved from mending broken bones that resulted from accidents to reconstructing inborn deformities such as rickets, bow legs, knock knees and, eventually, to leg or limb lengthening and reconstruction.
Sixteen year-old Camille Santiago of San Pablo, Laguna was born with dwarfism, with a torso length that was disproportionate to the shortness of her legs and arms. Her parents and her siblings are of normal heights. She is Dr. Javier’s first patient to undergo the Ilizarov Method for the purpose of leg-lengthening.
Camille was in Grade 6 when her parents first brought her to meet the doctor; it would take three years before she would finally decide on getting the operation. She told Dr. Javier that she wanted to be able to move independently; do menial household tasks such as switching the light without a broom to reach it.
It was a reason Dr. Javier found acceptable compared to those who approach him for the sake of vanity. “Kapag pure cosmetic reason, the moment na malaman nila na may pins na nakatusok at may scars sa labas, most likely they would say no,” he says. “So, kung vanity lang ang reason, hindi siya good reason to do the surgery kasi unang una, ang haba ng operasyon.”
It took three years for Camille to add seven inches to her height. And she is only halfway done; her arms have yet to undergo the procedure. After her operation, she had to wear the external fixture that slowly pulled apart her cut bone to allow bone growth one centimeter per month. She also religiously committed herself to physically therapy.
“May walker po ako at nagpa-practice po akong maglakad,” Camille recalls. “Minsan binibilang ko pa po yung nilalakad ko nung may bakal pa po ako.”
But despite the hard road to greater heights, Herbert, the aspiring Filipino Superman, is still willing to go through it in the future. Cosmetic leg lengthening is not performed in the Philippines so Herbert is saving up to have it done abroad.
“History kasi yan e. Kasi kumbaga nagawa ko na rin kahit papaano na maging Pilipino na Superman so mas mabigat kung talagang first Filipino ako na inopera for that. Para ka na ring astronaut, first man to land on the moon. The first Filipino na nagkaroon ng procedure na leg lengthening.”
To find out more about the Ilizarov Method and see an actual operation, tune in to Journo, July 3, 2012 after Pilipinas News on TV5 and on July 4, 2012 at 7:30 PM on AksyonTV.