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

Denise Dador Image
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
New procedure and nonprofit outreach give new ears to children
Children who are born without a fully-developed ear are getting new help from a procedure by a Torrance surgeon that uses a state-of-the-art prosthetic.

Being born without a fully-formed ear impacts not only hearing, but it can diminish a child's self esteem.

But, thanks to a pioneering new procedure and a mom with a big heart, kids born without an ear now have a chance to get what they've been missing.

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

"You're gonna touch your ear!" said Viola Nwadike, mother of microtia patient Victor Nwadike.

Once this state-of-the-art prosthetic is attached, 14-year-old Victor hopes the stares and the questions will stop.

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

Victor was born with microtia. It's a deformity where the outer ear doesn't develop fully during pregnancy. It affects 1 in every 6,000-8,000 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 was I sleeping on the wrong side?"' said Viola Nwadike.

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

"He's more of an introvert, he doesn't go out much," she said.

Along 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 woman in the village. The one who doesn't have access to the internet who doesn't even know anything," Nwadike said.

Give an Ear provides group support and hearing aids, and connects needy children with doctors willing to provide free ear reconstructions. Victor underwent 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 was not what everybody had hoped it would be, I wanted to be able to offer those families a solution," said craniofacial plastic surgeon Dr. Sheryl Lewin.

Lewin, whose practice is based in Torrance, specializes in fixing failed ear surgeries. She pioneered 3D scanning technology that can fashion an implant that looks exactly like a patient's healthy ear. The P.I.E.R. or Porous Implant Ear Reconstruction procedure employs a material that encourages grafting.

"It's got these tiny little pores and the pores are of a very particular size to encourage the body tissue to grow into it. You get an integration of the body tissue so this can last, we believe, a lifetime," Lewin said.

Lewin creates a skin flap, imbeds the implant and then covers it with fascia from the scalp. The result is a natural looking ear. The "before" and "after" patients show the incredible change. Lewin created her own nonprofit "Earicles" to help patients like Victor.

"If you don't have the resources to get to me or another super specialist on ears, that child's going to have to live with that failed ear which in many cases is worse than just the way they were born," said Lewin.

Out of Victor's ear miracle came a unique collaboration. Earicles will be teaming up with Nwadike's Give an Ear Foundation to provide a P.I.E.R. procedure to a child from Africa every year.

"To know that there is an organization out there or a doctor out there that says 'I will take my time, use my resources and make a difference in a child's life,' it is a lifetime gift," said Nwadike.

A gift that Victor and his mom hope to keep on giving.

So far, Dr. Lewin has done 400 of these P.I.E.R. procedures. Eyewitness News will follow Victor's story through his surgery and the big reveal of his brand new ear.