Schreiber Pediatric Center - Anthony Melendez's new look

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May 5, 2017

Anthony Melendez's new look

Posted by Dan  Permalink 

Anthony Menendez has been a Schreiber kiddo since he was a year old. For all of his time here, he has been a happy, energetic presence, in our S.T.A.R.S. preschool and during therapy visits. He even spent a year as a Schreiber Ambassador, attending our annual Gala and other fundraising events.

He managed all of that despite being born with serious physical challenges, including chronic lung disease and having several of his internal organs located in a sac outside his body.

Anthony Melendez works with Schreiber Physical Therapist Amber Sollenberger during a recent therapy visit. Anthony continues to receive therapy as he adjusts to life with his new prosthetic ear.

On top of that, Anthony was also born without his right ear, the result of a rare condition known as Goldenhar syndrome. Jen Melendez, Anthony's mom, said his other physical challenges had been identified before he was born. WIth his various conditions to monitor, doctors didn't recognize the ear was missing until after Anthony was delivered at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in June 2010.

Since then, Anthony has yearly follow-up appointments with Dr. Scott Bartlett and a team of cranio-facial specialists at CHOP to monitor his progress. Jen said Dr. Bartlett had told her that Anthony might be able to undergo a procedure to improve the appearance of the area where his ear was missing.

She wasn't in a big hurry to do the surgery, mainly because it wasn't something she thought needed to be "fixed."

Jen and Anthony Melendez attended the Schreiber Gala in 2015 as one of our Schreiber Ambassador families.

"We used to call it his love nub," Jen said. "We didn't make a big deal out of it. He was perfect to me."

The CHOP doctors are one of the few places in the country trained in MEDPOR ear reconstruction, a procedure developed by a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that uses a plastic implant attached using the patient's own tissue.

For Anthony, doctors would mold the implant from his fully formed ear, take some tissue from his scalp that would serve as a kind of living glue and stitch the implant into this tissue and onto the side of his head. Then they would take some additional skin from his groin and stitch that over the implant to make it look more like a real ear.

Jen went ahead with the procedure for Anthony on Nov. 21. The surgery took seven hours, and he was in the hospital for two days, leaving in time to be home for Thanksgiving.

Two weeks later, the protective mold came off and she was able to see his new ear for the first time.

"Even though they try to prepare you for everything involved, it doesn't completely prepare you," Jen said. "I was expecting to see a perfectly formed ear, but it was swollen and bruised. It didn't look like an ear at that point."

There were a couple of setbacks requiring two additional surgeries - one in December and another in February.

Anthony's new ear, about four after the first surgery. His mother Jen said Anthony had been more worried about when his hair would grow back than the appearance of his ear.

By mid-March, six weeks after the third surgery, the swelling and redness were fading, and Anthony was beginning to look like he had something approaching a normal right ear. The new one is still a little larger than the one he was born with, but that's on purpose.

"He'll grow into it," Jen said.

Still, it's been a stressful time.

"Living through it and watching him go through it, it takes a toll on me," Jen said. "There were times I thought the implant was failing. I was doubting myself."

During a recent physical therapy session, Anthony was more than willing to stop for some pictures. He was still the same bouncy little boy. The process doesn't seem to have changed him, even if he understands that he is changed.

"At one point, we finally talked about it," Jen said. "I said, 'That's your ear.' And he said, 'That's my ear? For me?' And I said, 'For you.'"

She turned back to watch as Anthony continued with his therapy session, taking one more step on the long journey to realizing his fullest potential.

***

If Anthony's story moves you, visit our donation page and consider a small recurring contribution. Your monthly or quarterly gift will make a difference in the lives of Anthony and the thousands of kids we see throughout the year.

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