To look at Matthew Houdek, you could never tell he was born with virtually no left ear. A surgery at Loyola University Health System made it possible for Houdek to be fitted with a prosthetic ear that looks just like the real thing.
Ear-nose-throat surgeon Dr. Sam Marzo implanted three small metal screws in the side of Houdek's head. Each screw is fitted with a magnet, and magnetic attraction holds the prosthetic ear in place.
It takes only a few seconds for Houdek to put his prosthetic ear on in the morning and take it off when he showers or goes to bed. It doesn't fall off, and it's much more convenient than prosthetic ears that are attached with adhesive.
"I'm extremely happy with it," said Houdek, 25, who lives in Chicago. "It turned out better than I expected."
Houdek was born with a deformity called microtia (small ear). About 1 in 10,000 babies are born with this condition, in which one or both outer ears are under-developed or absent. On his left side, Houdek was born with just an ear lobe and a bump.
When Houdek was about 4 years old, a surgeon reconstructed a new ear from his rib cartilage. At first, the ear was the right size. But it did not grow as Houdek grew up. "As I got older, it became more of an issue," Houdek said.
The silicone prosthesis was made by Gregory Gion, a facial prosthetist based in Madison, Wis. The flesh-colored silicone prosthesis looks almost identical to Houdek's natural ear -- right down to the small blood vessels. Houdek said everyone loves it. "And my mom almost cried when she saw it."
Like many people with microtia, Houdek also was born without an ear canal, a condition called congenital aural atresia. Marzo opened a new ear canal and lined it with a skin graft from Houdek's leg. Houdek now has partial hearing in his left ear.
"With a hearing aid, his hearing should be very good," Marzo said. Marzo is an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
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