On October 16, 1986 People Magazine published an article titled “A Bone Lengthening Technique Adds Inches to a Teenager’s Leg—And Answers Her Prayers.” The article describes Maria’s limb-lengthening journey after her left leg was shattered by Colombian-rebel machine-gun bullets.

People Magazine

Thirteen-year-old girls usually pine for all-expenses-paid afternoons at the mall or maybe front-row seats for New Kids on the Block. Maria Yusty’s dream was a simpler one: She wanted to be able to stand with both feet on the ground. After her left leg was shattered by Colombian-rebel machine-gun bullets five years ago during a visit with her grandparents, Maria had to wear a monstrously thick orthopedic shoe because her left leg was six inches shorter than her right. Now Maria’s dream has come true, thanks to an innovative bone lengthening procedure, developed in the U.S.S.R., which has increased the length of her leg by six full inches.

“It’s hard to believe,” says the soft-eyed Gaithersburg, Md., teenager. “Before, my leg only reached to my other ankle. Now when I stretch my legs out, they are the same length.”

Maria’s surgery last February was the culmination of a struggle that began in the summer of 1984 in Colombia. The little girl and her family, who lived in New York City, were visiting her grandparents on their 50-acre farm outside of Cali. After a placid day of picnicking and swimming, Maria, her mother, Isabel, and father, Alejandro, piled into their car for the 25-mile trip back to town. A few miles down the road, they were attached by members of a revolutionary group called M-19, which had overrun the area in retaliation for the murder of their leader. The family’s car was riddled with so many bullets that all the windows were shattered…Maria, in the back seat, had half of her left tibia—the principle bone between the knee and the ankle—destroyed by the bullets.

After they were transferred to a hospital in Cali later that night, a relative contacted Maria’s aunt, Maria Eugenia Pena-Faustino, in New York City, and told her the doctors wanted to amputate Maria’s leg. Pena objected and immediately flew to Colombia.

Doctor’s continued to say the leg should be removed, but Pena was adamant. “It has been very painful when I see Maria crying,” she says, “but I feel, what right do I have to have her leg cut off? I would be so guilty all my life that I did not do everything for her.”

Last year, to correct her shortened leg, doctors suggested the revolutionary bone lengthening procedure… A hospital social worker recommended that they consult Dr. Dror Paley…

Dr. Dror Paley

The difference between Maria’s legs would have been at least six inches,” says Paley. “You can’t really live normally with one leg that much shorter than the other.” The doctor adds that he couldn’t have asked for a better patient. “Maria is what this technique is made for,” he says. “She is so motivated and intelligent, and she has a tolerance for pain. This girl is made of nails.”

In the decades since the article was published, Dr. Paley founded the Paley Institute at St. Mary’s Medical Center, an orthopedic program specifically designed to treat limb lengthening, complex deformities, and a range of orthopedic conditions. The treatment philosophy of the Paley Institute continues to focus on reconstruction over amputation. He is committed to preserving limbs and joints, and restoring function.