New surgery corrects deformed ears and lost hearing

Everyday, nearly 100 babies are born with some kind of ear deformity. Now, doctors are not only helping those with ear deformities hear again, but also giving them a new look. It’s the closest thing to growing a new ear.

Mark Andrews was born with a congenital ear deformity. He had no ear and no outer ear canal. He turned to Duke University’s Dr. David Kaylie for help.

"It really is the only sense that can be lost and restored,” says Dr. Kaylie.

Dr. Kaylie built a new ear canal then drilled titanium screws into the side and base of Mark's skull to anchor a permanent ear. Over three months, Mark's skull grew into and through those screws.

Anaplastologist Jay McClennen took over next. You've probably seen his work before. He did the make-up on “X-Men” and other films. He crafted a rubber ear to snap onto those titanium posts next to Mark's new hearing aid. Mark and his doctors are proud of his before and after shots.

"He can hear from that side for the first time in his life as well as have a normal-looking ear,” says Dr. Kaylie.

Duke University experts say cases like this were previously solved with up to eight surgeries. This new surgery only takes one hour on the operating table.


MICROTIA AND ATRESIA: Microtia is an ear deformity that occurs at birth. Typically, it happens for every one in 5,000-7,000 births. Researchers are not fully aware of what causes microtia. Typically, children born with microtia do not suffer from any more defects or illnesses. In rare instances, facial nerve weakness occurs (15 percent of the time), and approximately one-third of those suffering from microtia have weak soft tissue on the defective side of the face. Atresia is defined as "the absence or underdevelopment of the ear canal and middle ear structures," according to the Microtia-Atresia Web site.

SOLVING THE ISSUE: Doctors have been studying microtia and atresia for quite some time and have come up with different methods for how to fix the problems. The two main methods used are using a living sculpture from the patient's rib cartilage or using a framework of artificial plastic. A perk to the living sculpture is that it grows as the child grows, whereas the plastic materials do not grow with the child because they are not living materials. Another advantage of using living tissue is that it heals without any major problems, and the child is able to return to normal activities (such as swimming and normal sports) four to six weeks after surgery. The living tissue ears maintain their form and last the patient's entire lifetime. A child with microtia and atresia hears through bone, and it ultimately reaches the inner ear. The inner ear is usually normal in microtia cases.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Head and neck surgeons are now performing a procedure involving titanium plates to create a permanent anchor to connect a prosthetic ear to. This is a medical breakthrough for patients suffering from forms of cancer, trauma, and/or birth defects. The procedures take about two to three hours under general anesthesia. The first step in the procedure is to cut the scalp open, exposing a silver dollar-sized piece of the bone. Then, the hole is countersunk, allowing the implant to be screwed into place. Two or more implants are then fastened to the skull. A few hours after surgery, the patient can go home and can carry on with normal activities two days after surgery. The procedure does not end there. This first operation just puts in the implants. It takes three to four months for the implants to stabilize. Then, once this healing period ends, the prosthesis is made. Prostheses are made from silicon and reflect the patient's natural ear.

Debbe Geiger, Senior Media Relations Officer
Duke Medicine Office of News and Communications
Durham, NC
(919) 660-9461

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