Doctors in Australia are about to embark on a world-first operation -- giving a woman a remarkable bionic leg which will fuse on to living muscle and bone to become a natural extension of her body.

Marny Cringle, from Bolwarra, north of Sydney, lost her leg after falling beneath a train on the London Underground in December 1996.

The remaining stump was initially too short to fit a prosthesis so, despite years of consulting with specialists, the 42-year-old was forced to put up with life on crutches and in a wheelchair.

But recent cutting-edge surgery and months of painful treatment have managed to lengthen the bone by two inches (5cm) in preparation for the artificial limb.

The next step is for surgeons at the Macquarie University Hospital in Sydney to anchor the top part of the bionic leg into her femur, where muscle and bone will gradually grow around it.

It will be the first time someone has successfully had both a bone stump lengthened and a bionic limb fitted, but for former wheelchair tennis champion Cringle it is much more than that.

"Just to be able to walk with two hands free is something I'm really looking forward to," she said. "And to be able to cuddle someone without having to have crutches hanging off me -- it's those minor things."

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Munjed Al Muderis, who will head the operation, described the procedure as "the future for amputee patients worldwide."

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