Young gymnast receives second ear surgery

February 28, 2011 5:56:30 PM PST
A procedure pioneered by a Bay Area doctor and a Los Angeles plastic surgeon has changed the life of a young boy from Mexico. He was born without ears or even ear canals, but he has them now.

The generosity of the doctors and two charitable foundations made it all possible. And just days after his 13th birthday, Diego Neumaier received his second ear. Correcting this condition normally requires half a dozen surgeries per ear, but Diego's doctors came up with a way to fix each ear in just one procedure.

Doctors replicated the work they did over the summer to correct a condition known as atresia and microsia. Diego was born without ears, ear canals or ear drums, although his inner ear and middle ear bones are normal. In June he underwent a complex 10-hour surgery developed by neurotoligist Joseph Roberson, M.D., from the California Ear Institute and plastic surgeon John Reinish, M.D., from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"So, there's been skin that's been transplanted inside to the bony channel we made, and the ear drum is... the body is repairing that and turning it into a normal drum," said Roberson.

The results with his right ear were even better than expected.

"We were just happy as can be from the hearing he got from that procedure. His hearing has actually come up into the normal range, little better than usual, even for this procedure," said Roberson.

Roberson now removes the surgical packing from his ear. The ear canal and drum are already functioning quite well.

"Once all the packing is out and the swelling goes down and those structures start to vibrate, then his hearing will come up," said Roberson.

When asked what the best part of having two ears was, Neumaier responded, "The best part is just hearing the world."

And he's hearing so well, the world around him now seems a bit too loud. But all the new sounds aren't hurting his concentration, Neumaier won two more medals in national gymnastics competitions in Mexico between his first and second surgery. His family though is adjusting.

"At home, Diego spoke softly and told us to lower our voices, and we said 'what?' Now we're the deaf ones," said Neumaier's mother.

Now Diego heads home to Mexico a young man who knows he's received a priceless gift.

"When I get older, I'd like to contribute somehow, like Dr. Reinish and Dr. Roberson did for me," said Neumaier.

A gift he'll pay forward in the years to come.

Both Dr. Roberson and Dr. Reinisch donated their time for the surgery. The Let Them Hear Foundation covered expenses for Neumaier and his mom and the Small Wonders Foundation took care of all the surgical costs. Neumaier's mom says she works hard, but never could have afforded to pay for these live changing operations.

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