Foundation system

Children born with a deformity get a new ear thanks to a nonprofit foundation and plastic surgeon Torrance

By Denise Dador

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TORRANCE, Calif. (KABC) — Being born without a fully formed ear not only impacts hearing, but can also lower a child’s self-esteem.

But, thanks to a pioneering new procedure and a kind-hearted mom, babies born without ears now have a chance to get what they’ve been missing out on.

It’s not every day that someone hands you a new left ear.

“You’re going to touch your ear!” said Viola Nwadike, mother of microtia patient Victor Nwadike.

Once this advanced prosthesis is in place, 14-year-old Victor hopes the stares and questions will stop.

“People always ask me what happened to your ear? Did you burn it in the sun? said Victor Nwadike.

Victor was born with microtia. It is a deformity where the outer ear does not fully develop during pregnancy. It affects 1 in 6,000 to 8,000 children.

The cause is unknown. And in the small town in South Africa where Victor was born, little could be done.

“We didn’t have the support system. We didn’t have the information. So you start blaming yourself, you start thinking I was sleeping on the wrong side? said Viola Nwadike.

Nwadike tried to hide her son’s ear, but the teasing continued.

“He’s pretty introverted, he doesn’t go out a lot,” she said.

With her son, Nwadike also felt alone. She did her own research and decided she wanted to help others in the same situation, so she started the Give an Ear Foundation.

“I started thinking about the village woman. The one who doesn’t have internet access and doesn’t even know anything,” Nwadike said.

Give an Ear provides group support and hearing aids, and connects children in need with doctors willing to provide free ear reconstructions. Victor suffered one. But after a series of surgeries that involved removing cartilage from his ribs, the result still left Victor a target for bullies.

“If the result was an ear that wasn’t what everyone had hoped for, I wanted to be able to provide a solution for those families,” said Dr. Sheryl Lewin, craniofacial plastic surgeon.

Lewin, whose practice is based in Torrance, specializes in repairing failed ear surgeries. She pioneered 3D scanning technology that can shape an implant that looks exactly like a patient’s healthy ear. The PIER or Porous Implant Ear Reconstruction procedure uses material that encourages grafting.

“It has these tiny little pores and the pores are a very particular size to encourage body tissue to grow there. You get body tissue integration, which we believe can last a lifetime,” Lewin said.

Lewin creates a skin flap, embeds the implant and then covers it with scalp fascia. The result is a natural looking ear. The “before” and “after” patients show the incredible change. Lewin started his own nonprofit “Earicles” to help patients like Victor.

“If you don’t have the resources to contact me or another super ear specialist, that child will have to live with this failing ear which in many cases is worse than how they were born,” said Lewin.

From the miracle of Victor’s ear was born a unique collaboration. Earicles will partner with the Give an Ear Foundation in Nwadike to provide a PIER procedure to a child in Africa each year.

“Knowing that there is an organization or a doctor who says ‘I will take my time, use my resources and make a difference in a child’s life’ is a gift for life,” Nwadike said.

A gift that Victor and his mother hope to continue to offer.

So far, Dr. Lewin has performed 400 of these PIER procedures. Eyewitness News will follow Victor’s story through his surgery and the big reveal of his brand new ear.

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