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In an age when plastic surgeons appear on television offering to improve patients’ eyes, noses, chins, lips and breasts, perhaps it’s not surprising that a Georgia podiatrist offered to make a 5-foot-5-inch man taller for $40,000. But by performing a leg-lengthening procedure purely for cosmetic reasons, the podiatrist broke the law and was negligent, a panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals declared recently. Elective use of the procedure — in which the patient’s legs are surgically broken and the bone segments are kept separated until they grow together to increase their length — violates the Georgia Podiatry Act, according to the decision. The law “plainly limits podiatrists to performing surgery which is necessary to treating ‘diseases, ailments, injuries, or abnormal conditions of the human foot and leg,’” wrote Judge Frank M. Eldridge for the panel. In this case, Gurjitt Dhillon, a 20-something husband and father, was “desperate” to be taller, said one of his lawyers, P.L. “Scott” Nottingham, adding that Dhillon suffered from “a substantial insecurity” regarding his height. Dhillon found out about the procedure on the Internet, Nottingham said. Dhillon claims the result of the surgery by Macon, Ga., podiatrist George R. Vito is that both legs grew about 5 inches, but one leg is now longer than the other, and both are bent toward the ground below the knee. Quoting a 2001 case in which the appeals court held that a dentist violated state law by performing a cosmetic face-lift on a patient, Eldridge wrote, “There can be no doubt that Mr. Dhillon as Mr. Vito’s patient in this case ‘falls within that class of persons the statute was intended to protect, and the harm complained of was the type the statute was intended to guard against.’” Vito v. Dhillon, No. A04A2170 (Ct. App. Ga. Sept. 21, 2004). IT’S FAR FROM OVER The case is by no means over. One of Vito’s lawyers, James E. Looper Jr., said he “respectfully disagrees” with the appeals court and is considering asking the Georgia Supreme Court to take the case. Noting that the appeals court left open whether the procedure caused Dhillon’s injuries, Looper added that Vito maintains that his care was proper and disputes Dhillon’s claimed condition. Dhillon’s lawyer, Nottingham, claimed that Vito has committed a host of abuses of the discovery process, including attempting to improperly obtain records of Nottingham’s co-counsel, Mark A. Inman. Looper said Nottingham’s charges are false. But Vito has gone on the offensive, suing Inman and Dror Paley, a Baltimore orthopedist who served as an expert witness against Vito in an earlier leg-lengthening suit that has now settled. The case against Inman — in which Vito claims the lawyer defamed him, tortiously interfered with his business and wrongly obtained a list of his patients — is pending in Fulton County Superior Court. James T. McDonald Jr., representing Inman, said the suit has no merit. In the case against Paley, a separate appeals court panel last month said Paley’s comments were “absolutely privileged.” R. Lars Anderson, Vito’s personal lawyer, said he will not appeal the matter further. Vito v. Paley, No. A04A0876 (Ct. App. Ga. Sept. 13, 2004). PODIATRISTS MAY STEP IN The Georgia Podiatric Medical Association is considering joining the fray, said its president, Rudolf W. Cisco of Gainesville. Cisco said the leg-lengthening procedure is generally used to treat people with awkward gaits or painful joints caused by injuries or deformities — and not for cosmetic reasons. Cisco would neither defend nor endorse the actions of Vito, whom he described as having undergone “extensive training” in the limb-lengthening procedure in Russia, where the procedure was invented. Cisco said that the 300-member group is concerned about the appeals court decision because the state law “does not say specifically you cannot do [the procedure] for cosmetic reasons.” Cisco said the association has consulted with attorneys, whom he would not name, but has not decided whether to enter the Vito v. Dhillon case as a friend of the court. The decision as it stands, he added, could restrain a podiatrist’s practice.

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