Hampstead hospital builds boy an ear from rib cartilage

Ethan, 8, had suffered from low self-esteem after being born without his right ear - until he underwent the groundbreaking operation at the Royal Free

A GROUNDBREAKING operation at Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital has given an eight-year-old boy a brand new ear, by building one out of cartilage from his ribs.

Sheffield youngster Ethan Giles-Bowman is one of only 100 children a year born without an ear as a result of hemi-facial microsomia, a strain of Goldenhar Syndrome, and it badly affected his confidence.

But after an operation in September with Hampstead surgeon Greg O’Toole – one of just three doctors in England who carry out the procedure – Ethan’s mother Kathryn says he has a new lease on life.

Ms Giles-Bowman says Ethan began to notice his condition from a young age.

“Up until three or four he was quite outgoing and quite extrovert, but we were on a holiday to Tenerife and there were pillars which were mirrored and one night we noticed he didn’t like sitting with his bad ear towards the mirrors,” she said. “We thought he was quite young to notice those sorts of things.

“The kids he has grown up with have learned to accept him so he has always felt secure there, but when he goes somewhere new he always felt people were looking at him and he always said he wanted to be like everyone else.”

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Over the years the family tried several potential solutions but nothing suited Ethan. When he was very young the family heard of attempts to build ears from plastic under the skin, but were unconvinced by the images they saw and bad stories they heard about the after-effects.

Then, out of their blue their GP, a friend of Mr O’Toole, suggested they travel to Hampstead to meet with the specialist.

Ms Giles-Bowman said: “We went down with the opinion we will not be interested, but after talking to Greg and him showing us his pictures, it convinced Ethan and he was quite taken by it and he wanted an ear for himself.”

Though the operation is not a new one, it is now coming into its own, said Mr O’Toole.

“The techniques are being perfected and refined to a very high degree now,” he said. “We take several pieces of cartilage and sculpt them to make a framework, holding them together with very fine steel wire, which we place under the skin. This sits there for six months and then we release it from the side of the child’s head.”

Ethan will need at least one more follow-up operation to “release” the ear and as a teenager to possibly correct missing parts of his cheek and jaw bone, but for now, Ms Giles-Bowman says, the family are thrilled with the results.

“Now, he has got so much confidence. He was hiding under his hair before and he’s had it all cut short, he just seems a happier kid,” she said. “He’s back to the old Ethan we knew before he starting being aware of his condition.”

Mr O’Toole added: “From a personal point of view it’s extremely satisfying. This absolutely changes their lives. You have children who grow their hair long, won’t go swimming, can’t wear glasses – they can become really distressed and introverted. Now Ethan has confidence and has completely changed.”

More information on Goldenhar Syndrome, can be found at www. goldenhar.org.