Mommy, I Can Hear!
Born partially deaf and without a left ear, Edmund Hobbs grew into a painfully shy child. But an innovative operation has brought smiles,
songs, and laughter into his life.
If you met Edmund Hobbs today, you'd never guess that this talkative, rambunctious
7-year-old had such a rough start in life. Edmund was born with a rare disorder:
He had only a small ruffle of skin where his left ear should have been, a condition
the doctors called microtia. He also lacked an eardrum and couldn't hear on that
side. "At the time, I didn't understand how this could have happened to my
beautiful baby," says his mother, Sandra. "But the doctors told me that
his condition wasn't hereditary and it didn't happen because of anything I did
while I was pregnant—it was just a random genetic flaw." Doctors also
assured Sandra that the problem could be fixed, but she'd have to wait until Edmund
turned 6, the age at which a child’s ears reach their adult size.
From the start, Sandra, a single mom, was showered with support from her many
friends and relatives in the Hopi tribe, of which she and her son are members. "Everybody
loved Edmund, because among our people, kids who are born different are considered
very special," says Sandra, who has homes on both the Hopi reservation
and in the nearby town of Winslow, Arizona, where she works as a chef. But
even though Edmund, whose Hopi name is Star Boy, was never teased, he became
painfully shy as he grew older and started school.
Edmund didn't play with
other kids much and spent a lot of time alone, reading and drawing. As
a result, he didn't have many friends. In kindergarten, when his teacher put him
in the front row of the school's Christmas pageant, he was so embarrassed that
he cried. And he hated to go to the barber because he wanted to keep his
curly brown hair as long as possible to hide the defect.
When Edmund was 5, Sandra
began to research surgery for him on the Internet. She was distressed to discover
that the standard treatment involves a series of complicated and potentially
risky operations in which parts of the child's rib cartilage are removed and then
sculpted into a new ear. Even worse, there's no guarantee that the reconstructed
ear will look natural—or that the child's hearing will
Not satisfied, Sandra dug deeper and found the Website of a doctor who had
developed a revolutionary and far less invasive method to repair microtia.
Instead of using rib grafts, Thomas Romo, M.D., chief of facial plastic
surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City, customizes a flexible
plastic frame to match the child's other ear. In the first stage of the
reconstruction, skin from the abdomen is stitched over the frame to form
the ear's normal curves and folds. Several weeks later, the patient undergoes
a second surgery during which a natural-looking lobe is created, and a
titanium peg is inserted that snaps to a hearing aid.
Sandra was thrilled,
but she knew that her insurance would never cover the services of
a top New York City doctor. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she sent Dr. Romo
an e-mail describing her son's plight. Her timing couldn't have been
better. The message arrived just a few months after the plastic surgeon and other
doctors had started the Little Baby Face Foundation, a charity that provides medical
and financial assistance for kids who need surgery to correct facial deformities
but don't have the means to pay for it. Sandra was ecstatic when she got a reply
saying that the foundation had decided to accept Edmund as its very first case—and
would perform the $50,000 procedure for free, in addition to paying all travel
Loud and clear
The four-hour operation in January 2004 was a huge success, but at first, Edmund
was very protective of his ear. He was afraid to have anyone—even Dr.
Romo—look at or touch it. Within days, though, he was eager to have
his long curls snipped short so he could show off his new ear. "Wow!" he
exclaimed. "Now I look just like everyone else."
In April, Edmund returned to New York to have his hearing aid put in. Dr. Romo
snapped it on and whispered, "Can you hear me?" Edmund sat in stunned
silence for several seconds. "That's very loud," he said. "Take
it off!" Dr. Romo removed the tiny device and explained to Sandra that her
son would find hearing the world in stereo confusing at first. Edmund began by
using the aid for a couple of hours each day, and within a few months, he had
completely adjusted to wearing it full-time.
Meanwhile, Edmund's self-esteem soared. When his school had its spring concert,
Star Boy lived up to his name—by taking center stage. "He was joining
in with the other kids, singing, laughing, and having a great time," Sandra
recalls. Since then, his shyness has vanished, she adds. "He's like a caterpillar
who turned into a butterfly."
Quite simply, Edmund's life has been transformed, his mother says. Not only has
he gained new friends and discovered such simple pleasures as wearing sunglasses
for the first time, but his schoolwork has improved dramatically because he can
finally hear the lessons clearly. In fact, he's doing so well that he's just been
accepted into a program for gifted children. "It's amazing," Sandra
says, "how the operation has opened up the world for him."
Sources: parents.com, “Mommy,
I can Hear!” -
By Lisa Collier Cool
© 2005. Reprinted with permission from
the June 2005 issue of Parents magazine.