Not many nine-year-olds desire to have a “big pair of ears” but before the operation it was Kieran Sorkin’s biggest wish.
On Tuesday last week experts at the world renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) performed a six hour operation where they used cartilage from his ribs to create a pair of ears and grafted them to his head.
The youngster was born deaf and also had a rare condition which meant he did not have fully formed ears – just small lobes where his ears should be.
While the latest procedure was primarily cosmetic, thanks to several previous operations and a hearing aid, Kieran has gradually been able to hear.
Without help he is still around 90% deaf, but when using hearing aids he can “hear the wind blow and the birds tweet”, his father David Sorkin said.
Kieran, from Bushey, Hertfordshire, struggled at his first school because he looked different to the other children.
But Mr Sorkin said that the operation will boost the youngster’s confidence “no end”.
Before the surgery, Kieran said: “I’ve always wanted big ears, and now I’m finally going to have them.”
Following the procedure his parents helped him to take a photograph of his newly crafted ear, or a “side selfie”, to which he simply replied: “Wow”.
Mr Sorkin said that he and his wife Louise were over the moon with the outcome.
“We’re absolutely on cloud nine,” he said. “We could not have wished for a better result.”
“They look like normal ears, he had nothing but has got proper sized ears now and they cover the gap where ears should have been. They look normal bar a couple of sewing marks which will go away in time.
“His reaction was just a ‘wow’, he is very happy.”
The 44-year-old IT manager added: “It’s been heart-wrenching for us and we’ve had the moral dilemma all along of whether it’s right to change the features that Kieran was born with. But Kieran has talked about having ear surgery ever since the age of six when he saw a TV programme about it.
“It was very important that this was Kieran’s decision, and I think it’s happened at exactly the right time for his development.”
He also described Kieran’s difficulties at school, saying: “He had problems at school in that he didn’t gel very well in the groups because he looked different to other kids and he only had one or two friends at his previous school. He has now moved to a different school now and they have a deaf unit in every year so they are a little bit more receptive to deafness and to a child looking different.
“But this will boost his confidence no end.”
Kieran was born with bilateral microtia – which affects just one in 100,000 babies – a congenital deformity where the external ear is underdeveloped.
But medics, led by GOSH consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Neil Bulstrode, have now turned his fortunes around.
During the six hour operation Mr Bulstrode harvested the rib cartilage from both sides of Kieran’s chest and then carved and shaped it into frameworks for Kieran’s ears. When designing them he used an outline of Mrs Sorkin’s ears as a “family template” to make them as close as possible to the ear shape that the youngster might otherwise have had.
He then grafted the ears onto Kieran’s head under pockets of skin and then used a vacuum to shape the skin to the contours of the new ear.
“Bilateral reconstructions are sometimes done one at a time, but for Kieran we have created both of his new ears at the same time,” Mr Bulstrode said. “This allows us to ensure the ears are balanced and achieve the best result
“It’s a major operation but it brings a significant improvement in quality of life for children with microtia. Their confidence improves exponentially and their performance at school improves.
“If you can improve a young person’s confidence, you can alter their whole trajectory in life.”
Kieran will have a follow up operation in six months time, and hopefully he will not need to have any more, Mr Sorkin added.
“These should last because they are cartilage and not prosthetics,” he said
A GOSH spokeswoman said that researchers at the hospital are working with the University College London Institute for Child Health to try and perform ear reconstructions for children like Kieran by growing new ear frameworks and other skeletal structures from a child’s own stem cells.
They hope to be able to use stem cells from a child’s own fat to create a new ear. Experts say that the approach would be far less invasive than the current treatment.