Jeff’s career as an architect at a prestigious East Coast firm was taking off. At 26, he was successful and athletic, and he had no trouble meeting women. There was, however, one problem. Though it was imperceptible to friends and colleagues, Jeff (his name has been changed) was tortured by a sense that he had been born with the wrong body. Jeff was five feet six inches tall, and he was obsessed with his height—or his lack of it. “To the outside world I was extremely confident, but my height was always an insecurity,” he says.

He was bitter, too, pissed that his brother was blessed with five more inches. He resented having to wear lifts and get his pants hemmed an extra several inches, and having to smile when a girlfriend’s parents teased him about how they would have short grandchildren. Most of all, Jeff hated the feeling of hopelessness that had dogged him ever since he stopped growing at age 17, a malaise no amount of positive talk or professional success could alleviate.

It was late one night five years ago that Jeff saw a segment on TV about limb-lengthening surgery in China. The report detailed a procedure called the Ilizarov method, in which a cagelike apparatus is attached to each leg and patients turn a set of screws to stretch their own bones. Jeff was fascinated, but he ultimately concluded that the procedure was too barbaric to consider seriously.

Then, about a year ago, Jeff came across a posting on an online message board about a “miracle” surgery at the Betz Institute, in Lebach, Germany—an advanced procedure that promised to make him almost four inches taller (most lengthening procedures guarantee only about two inches) with far fewer health risks. Instead of attaching an external cage, it involved implanting stretching devices inside his legs. He’d still be effectively crippled for months, but he wouldn’t need a wheelchair, just crutches. After three months of deliberating, Jeff flew to Germany to meet with Dr. Augustin Betz.

At the institute, Jeff saw postoperative patients looking happy and healthy. Most had gained between three and four inches in height. And all had good things to say about Dr. Betz. One even called the procedure “no big deal.” So Jeff broke up with his girlfriend—he’d always felt she held his height against him anyway—sold his car, liquidated some investments, borrowed money from his parents (the only people who knew about the plan), and took a leave of absence from work. He told his friends he would be doing an internship abroad for the next several months.

In Germany, Jeff’s femurs (thighbones) were severed by a surgical saw. The surgeon inserted a rodlike telescoping implant in the bone canal of each leg, bridging the cut. He fastened each rod in place with four pins. The next morning Jeff stood up on his new legs and took a few steps on crutches.