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.”
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.
“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.
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