Heightened Stature, Longer Arms for Short People

The “built” world is constructed for people around 5’6″ tall, give or take five to six inches. Those of us in that range never think about the height of a step, chair, or counter, nor do we have difficulty adjusting the car seat in order to reach the foot controls and steering wheel. Everything is designed for the average person.18-02-20 ex fix Scaduto AE HS

Extremely tall people, however,  can’t sleep in standard beds, can’t sit comfortably in theater seats, and have to duck going through doorways. People less than five feet tall have another set of concerns. In addition to possible issues regarding self-esteem, they cannot reach into overhead cabinets, sit in chairs with their feet on the floor, or control a car without special mechanical adaptations.

Once Dr. Ilizarov’s technique of bone lengthening caught on with surgeons world-wide (discussed in the last three blog posts), they began thinking about applying this technique to make extremely short people taller. Read more

Stretching a Forearm into Shape

My blog posts the past two weeks have described the pioneering work of Dr. Gavriil Ilizarov, who made lemonade out of lemons when confronted with problematic fractures and limited resources in the Russian hinterlands. His external fixators (pins placed into the bone and then secured to one another by a metal scaffolding outside the skin) are most often applied to the leg bones. These are the bones that are quite vulnerable to high-energy, devastating damage. Motorcycle injuries and war wounds are common causes.  If it were not for external fixators, which can correct alignment and stabilize fracture fragments to allow for healing, many of these severely injured limbs would have to be amputated.

18-02-13 forearm Ilizarov case xr and clinical photoThe techniques that Ilizarov perfected can also be applied to upper extremity bone problems. Take for example, this young man who broke his wrist when he was ten. He was casted, the fracture healed, and he resumed normal activities. A problem, however, was lurking. Read more

Bike Spokes Allowed Crippled Olympic Gold Medalist to High Jump 6’9″

In last week’s post I described Dr. Ilizarov’s pioneering work using bicycle spokes connected to an external frame for stabilizing severely fractured bones. He could get limbs to heal that  would otherwise face amputation. Although Ilizarov’s results were remarkable, his technique was too unconventional and his location too far from any recognized center of medical excellence for him to receive the recognition that he deserved.

18-02-06 Valeriy Brumel holding Ilizarov ex fixThis began to change when Russian high jumper Valeriy Brumel injured his leg in a motorcycle accident in 1965, a year after winning the Olympic gold medal in Toyko. Following three years of multiple and unsuccessful operations in Moscow, Brumel traveled to Kurgan to see Ilizarov, who got the bone to heal. Read more

Human Bones Make Ritual Music

18-01-23 kangling from Musical Instrument Museum




Trumpets made from human thigh bones and drums crafted from human skulls are integral to traditional Tibetan meditation rituals–ones that stress the fleeting nature of life and material existence. Having read about the rituals considerably, I am not sure that a Westerner (at least me) could ever acquire a deep understanding of their meaning, so here I will just describe the instruments. That way you will be able to focus on the spiritual gist of the ceremony if you make a pilgrimage. Read more

Musical Bones

18-01-16 armadillo uke with neckIn Phoenix for a meeting last week, I had a free afternoon and felt the urge to see some bones. So where could I go? Sure, Arizona has lots of fossils scattered in remote spots, but I just had a few hours, which I blissfully filled at the Musical Instrument Museum. I never guessed I would see an armadillo “ukelele.” Read more

Thumb Reconstruction II: Borrowing

18-01-02 composite ao and po pollicizationOur thumbs contribute to everything man-made. Without a thumb, hand function drops to 40% of normal. Three main reconstruction techniques are available to restore this critical part, either missing from birth or from injury. The first one, discussed last week, entails slowly lengthening the thumb remnant. I nickname it begging. This week’s post discusses the second method, which I call borrowingRead more

Thumb Reconstruction I: Begging

17-12-26 thumb recon beg borrow steal cropped for blogOur thumbs are amazing. Their independent movement allows them to swing away from the palm and face (oppose) the other fingers. Our thumbs contribute to everything man-made. Various languages celebrate its function. Shastin Farsi means both 60 and thumb, signifying that it constitutes 60% of the hand’s function. In Turkish, thumb is bas parmak—chief finger. And in Latin it is pollex, which is derived from pollere—to be strong. Isaac Newton marveled, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” Read more

Bone or Ivory? A Cautionary Note for Collectors


17-12-19 ivory backscratcher for blogBecause of its alluring properties and relative scarcity, gold is more precious than silver. The same used to be true for ivory when compared to bone. Although it is easy to distinguish gold from silver, it is not necessarily the same with ivory and bone, yet the implications include legal ones.

Should you come across an irresistably beautiful crafted white object in an antique store, can you trust the dealer’s word regarding its composition? Museum curators and the US Fish and Wildlife Service also have vested interests in bone vs. ivory. How can you tell them apart? Read more