- Rich Rotella, 38, is an actor who underwent limb lengthening surgery to further his career.
- He says it added 3 inches to his height and boosted his confidence, but it was painful.
- Rotella has no regrets and is working on a documentary about his experiences.
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This essay is based on a conversation with Rich Rotella, a 38-year-old Los Angeles actor, about his experience of having leg lengthening surgery to advance 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 5ft 5 and felt pale 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 suggested several options for increasing my height, one of which involved growth hormone, which I ended up not taking.
I decided to wait and see if I would have a growth spurt in late puberty, but in 2002, when I was 17, I broke my arm playing basketball with my brothers and an x-ray showed my growth plates were sealed. My doctor told me I would not get taller than 5ft 5. That was pretty frustrating, but I tried to move forward.
I considered having leg lengthening surgery in 2013, but it seemed too expensive
I first thought about having surgery in 2013, but I was married and based on my research, the surgery cost more than $100,000. It didn’t seem plausible at the time to spend that much money.
I’ve been an actor in Hollywood since 2009 and have worked with a handful of celebrities, from Betty White to Mindy Sterling, and talented filmmakers. Over time, it seemed like I got stuck in the sidekick role. So in 2019, on the eve of my 10th anniversary in Hollywood, I asked a few directors and filmmakers to share their candid take on my career. They told me I couldn’t get lead roles because of my height.
Lead actors are usually 5-foot-8 and taller, they told me. It was a shock and I felt like I was blown away. I took some time to think about it – then the pandemic happened. My feelings felt trivial compared to what was happening in the world.
The next step was choosing my surgeon
In October 2020, I came across the Cyborg 4 Life YouTube channel, which is entirely dedicated to information on cosmetic limb lengthening and limb discrepancies. After going through all the videos, I was impressed and decided to message the creator, Victor Egonu, hoping to collaborate on a documentary about my journey with the operation.
We hit it off and pitched our idea to NuVasive, the hardware company responsible for manufacturing the devices used in surgery. After a series of discussions, the company came on board and played a key role in providing the hardware for the process, which helped move the documentary forward.
I chose dr. Dror Paley of the Paley Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, as my surgeon. He had performed more than 20,000 surgeries and I knew I could count on his miracles.
Rotella looks at an x-ray after his surgery. Courtesy of Rich Rotella
I kept my intentions secret throughout the process. Months before the surgery, which took place in April 2022, I shared my plans with my girlfriend. I had started dating her after I got divorced. She was the only one I told before I went inside.
You go into surgery perfectly healthy and wake up with broken legs
After the surgery, the institute required a three-month rest period at its facility, where you work with a physical therapist five times a week to grow 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 taking heavy medication.
The price of the procedure depends on the method chosen and whether physical therapy is included. I decided to have thigh or above knee surgery and ended up spending more than $100,000. My insurance didn’t cover the surgery, but I would recommend that people include physical therapy sessions in their cost analysis. I increased my height by 3 inches, from 5ft 5 to 5ft 8.
Rotella in a wheelchair after his leg lengthening surgery. Courtesy of Rich Rotella
Immediately after the surgery, I sent a mass email to my family and friends to inform them of my decision. I received mixed reactions, but many people questioned my judgment.
It’s an incredibly painful experience
That was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Your bone grows back slowly: a device lengthens the rods in your legs by about 1 millimeter per day.
You must be committed to the process: do extensive research on the type of procedure you want and the recovery process, meet the doctors who will work with you, and follow you step by step.
Rotella on a bike machine during his rehab after leg lengthening surgery. Courtesy of Rich Rotella
Having a backup plan is important for professionals looking to do this. This can severely affect your career as you will not be able to work for months. And you can’t do it alone. Luckily I had the help of my girlfriend to smooth the trip.
This surgery boosted my confidence for auditions
I am currently working on the documentary which is in post-production and is due for release in 2024. I’m also looking for ways to connect with executives at major studios in hopes of selling the rights to my story. In the meantime, I have several other films I’d like to work on.
I don’t pay attention to negative reactions I got from people around me who still think I did wrong because limb lengthening surgery is just like any other cosmetic surgery. It’s something I’ve wanted all my life, and even if my career in Hollywood hadn’t existed, I think I would have done it anyway.
Correction: November 3, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misrepresented the year Rich Rotella broke his arm. He broke it in 2002, not 1992.
Have you had cosmetic surgery to advance your career? Send an email to [email protected]