I spent $100,000 on leg-lengthening surgery to help my career. It was unbelievably painful, but I have no regrets.
Rich Rotella, 38, is an actor who had limb-lengthening surgery to advance his career.
- He says it added 3 inches to his height and boosted his confidence, but it was painful.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Rich Rotella, a 38-year-old actor from Los Angeles, about his experience having leg-lengthening surgery to get ahead in his career. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I've always felt the need to be taller, even as a teenager. I was 5-foot-5 and felt like I paled in comparison to my peers, so my mother and I sought medical advice from a doctor in Frederick County, Maryland, where I lived at the time. The doctor recommended a variety of options to boost my height, one of which included a growth hormone that I didn't end up taking.
I decided to wait and see if I'd undergo a late-puberty growth spurt, but in 1998, when I was 13 years old, I broke my arm playing basketball with my brothers and an X-ray showed that my growth plates were sealed. My doctor told me I wasn't going to grow any taller than 5-foot-5. This was quite frustrating, but I tried to move forward.
I considered getting leg-lengthening surgery in 2013, but it seemed too expensive
I first thought about getting surgery in 2013, but I was married, and according to my research, the surgery cost more than $100,000. It didn't seem plausible to spend that kind of money at the time.
I've been an actor in Hollywood since 2009 and have worked with a handful of celebrities, from
Lead actors are typically 5-foot-8 and up, they told me. This came as a shock, and I felt like I was knocked down a few pegs. I took some time to mull it over — then the pandemic happened. My feelings felt trivial in comparison to what was happening in the world.
The next step was picking my surgeon
In October 2020, I came across the YouTube channel "Cyborg 4 Life," dedicated entirely to information on cosmetic limb-lengthening and limb discrepancies. After going through all of the videos, I was impressed and decided to message the creator,
We hit it off and proposed our idea to NuVasive, the hardware company responsible for making the equipment used in the surgery. After a series of discussions, the company came on board and played a significant role in providing the hardware for the procedure, which helped the documentary move forward.
Throughout the process, I kept my intentions a secret. Months before the surgery, which took place in April 2022, I shared my plans with my girlfriend. I'd started dating her after getting a divorce. She was the only one I told before going in.
You go into surgery perfectly healthy and wake up with broken legs
After surgery, the institute required a three-month rest period at their facility, where you work with a physical therapist five times a week to regrow your bones from scratch. The surgery itself took four hours, but the recovery is the most time-consuming part — it's a slow, painful process. My mobility was severely limited and I was on strong medication.
The price of the procedure depends on the method you choose and if physical therapy is included. I chose to do a femoral surgery, or above the knees, and ended up spending more than $100,000. My insurance didn't cover the surgery, but I'd recommend that people include physical-therapy sessions in their cost analysis. I increased my height by 3 inches, going from 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-8.
Immediately after the surgery, I sent a mass email to my family and friends informing them of my decision. I received mixed reactions, but a lot of people questioned my judgment.
It's an unbelievably painful experience
This was one of the hardest things I've done in my life. Your bone grows back slowly: A device extends the rods in your legs by about 1 millimeter a day.
You have to be committed to the process: Do intensive research on the type of procedure you want and the recovery process, meet the healthcare practitioners who will work with you, and keep up every step of the way.
For professionals looking to do this, it's essential to have a backup plan in place. This is something that can really affect your career, because you'll be unable to work for months. And you can't do it alone. Luckily, I had the help of my girlfriend to smooth out the journey.
This surgery has boosted my confidence for auditions
I'm currently working on the documentary, which is in post-production with a planned release in 2024. I'm also starting to look for opportunities to get in touch with executives from major studios in the hopes of selling the rights to my story. In the meantime, I have several other films that I'm looking to work on.
I don't pay heed to negative reactions that I've gotten from the people around me who still think I was wrong to do this, because limb-lengthening surgery is just like any other cosmetic surgery. This is something I've wanted for myself all my life, and even if my career in Hollywood didn't exist, I believe I still would've done it.
Correction: November 4, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated when Rich Rotella broke his arm as well as how old he was. He broke it in 1998 at 13 years old, not 2002 at 17 years old.
Have you gotten cosmetic surgery to advance your career? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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