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Orthopedic Surgeon Is Satisfied to Be Short

July 29, 2001|PAUL PAYNE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BALTIMORE — Michael Ain's medical practice rests on a scalpel's edge and the four legs of his chrome-plated footstool.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital orthopedic surgeon wields his blade often--performing 300 operations a year. Each time, the 4-foot-3 doctor climbs his trusty stool, putting him at eye level with shattered limbs and broken hips.

Ain, who has achondroplasia, says he's never let size stunt his ambition--although that hasn't always been easy. He was denied entrance to some medical schools that said he couldn't handle the physical demands of the job and couldn't win respect from patients and colleagues.

Now in his sixth year as an attending surgeon in one of the foremost pediatric wards in the country, Ain has a reputation that has little to do with his stature.

"Being little is a nonissue," the surgeon said while scrubbing for a five-hour scoliosis operation. "When I'm at work, I don't use any special equipment, don't have any special treatment. I get on the stool and go."

At a time when studies have shown men that over 6 feet tall and tall women are considered more attractive and competent and make more money, Ain is a model for dwarfs pursuing lofty goals.

"You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it," Ain said. "You might have to work three times harder than the other guy. It just takes heart."

And a thick skin. Over the years, Ain has endured slights from co-workers and patients.

Strolling the pediatric ward early one morning, Ain greets patients and family members with handshakes and assurances.

"When I first met him, I thought, 'I don't see how that's going to work,' " said Terry Coles, whose 19-year-old daughter was undergoing an operation. "But I was quite satisfied. He's really very good."

Others, like Johns Hopkins nurse Judy Clark, said Ain's size makes him a natural with children.

When Clark's 7-year-old daughter broke her ankle, there was no doubt which doctor would set the bone.

"My daughter just adores him," Clark said. "He's at their level in more ways than one."

Ain grew up in New York, where his father was a judge.

When he was 12, his parents took him to Canada, where a doctor was lengthening limbs. After considering it for a few days, he decided against it and says he's glad.

"I was not the most mature 12-year-old," Ain said. "Looking back, I'm pleasantly surprised I did not choose to have it done."

He is married to Valerie, who is 5-foot-6. The couple has two daughters, Alexa, 4, who has achondroplasia, and Kayla, a 9-month-old who does not.

Ain said he'll support Alexa when it comes time to decide whether to lengthen her limbs.

"It will be her decision when she's mature enough to make it," Ain said.

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