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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 08:42 GMT
Stretch op girl breaks leg
Emma Richards
Emma Richards spent months in hospital
A 16-year-old girl who underwent surgery on the NHS to have her legs stretched has broken a leg at school.

Emma Richards, of Wadebridge, Cornwall, underwent surgery - which involves breaking the legs - because she was too short to apply for her dream job as an air hostess.

It was a pure accident at school and could have happened to anybody

Irene Richards, mother
Airlines do not consider anybody under 5ft 3ins tall for safety reasons - but before her surgery Emma was just 4ft 9ins tall.

Emma underwent a limb lengthening operation a year ago in which her legs were broken and reset to make her taller.

Since the six-hour operation she has contracted an infection and has suffered broken bones because of her weakened legs.

Emma's mother, Irene Richards, said her daughter had broken a leg when she slipped in the playground at Wadebridge Community School on Wednesday.

Pure accident

Emma Richards
Emma Richards: No regrets
She said: "It was a pure accident at school and could have happened to anybody. Any child can fall in the playground, it is just that this time it happened to be Emma.

"It is just an ordinary break and I don't think it has anything to do with the operation Emma had last January."

Emma has undergone surgery at the Royal Hospital at Treliske in Truro on her broken leg. Her mother said she was doing well.

She said: "She now just wants to get on with her own life and be left alone."

Emma's stretching operation was carried out by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Darren Fern on the NHS at an estimated cost of 12,000.

He said it had nothing to do with her dream of becoming an air stewardess and had been done for functional, and not cosmetic reasons, to make her life better.

Psychological assessment

Dr Fern said a full psychological assessment had been carried out on Emma before the operation.

He said she had been unable to reach into cupboards, was worried about ever being able to drive and whether she could lead a normal life.

"Each case is taken on its individual merits. Somebody else who is 4ft 9ins maybe fine, but Emma was not fine about being that height," he said.

"Children can be unthinkably cruel to their friends if they see something different about them."

The surgical procedure Emma underwent involved breaking the thigh bone in both legs in two places.

Six five inch pins were then screwed into each bone and attached to a metal frame.

Over the next four months, Emma was bedridden while the screws were turned four times a day to draw the broken bones away from each other.

Her body responded naturally by creating new bone to fill the gap.

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