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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
'Infection ate part of my ear away'
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Emily Allan
Emily's ears stuck out before surgery
For years Emily Allan was teased about her sticky-out ears, and she worried that her life might be made a misery when she went to secondary school.

But an operation to cure her 'bat ears' went badly wrong and left Emily, 12, with part of her ear missing and looking worse than before.

Her mother Teresa said Emily had always been self conscious.

"She always had her hair over her ears in photographs to hide them."


Emily and her parents were delighted to be accepted NHS surgery.

But her operation in 2003 was not a success.

Her ear was folded and looked worse than when she went in
Teresa Allan

Eczema behind one of her ears led to an infection which caused cartilage of the ear to be eaten away and her ear to fold.

Emily was very poorly and had to spend an extra week in hospital on antibiotics.

"She was devastated after the original operation. Her ear looked worse than when she went in," said Teresa.

"She had thought everything was going to be fine. She realised she was going to have to have bandages on, but in the end she had to wear them for six weeks.

"They said she was going to have to wear a headband as well to keep her ear in place for a while.

"She said to me 'why did I bother having it done'. Not that we forced her, but it made me feel dreadful as a mother."


The Allans were referred to plastic surgeon Mr David Gault for an NHS operation at Mount Vernon Hospital, North London.

Emily Allan
Emily is happy with the final results

Two years after her original operation, Emily got her reconstruction and Teresa said the results are tremendous.

"The new ear is slightly redder than the other ear and is not quite as pliable.

"She can not feel any sensation, but it looks fantastic."

Emily said that despite the problems she was still pleased she had gone ahead with surgery.

"I would recommend it because it does turn out really well.

"My ears were upsetting me because other people had ears that were 'in to' their heads.

"Now I feel more confident having my photograph taken."


Mr Gault, who works for the NHS at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, as well as privately, said Emily had been very unlucky with her first surgery.

Because her ear rim had collapsed, he had to take cartilage from her chest wall to repair it.

"Surgery for sticking-out ears, or bat ears, is thought to be a simple op, and often left to junior surgeons," he said.

Emily Allan's ear
Emily's ear looked worse after her first operation

"But the risk of complications, which can sometimes result in severe deformities and even loss of an ear, is almost 5% with the most commonly used technique."

Conventional surgery involves scoring the cartilage, to weaken its ability to hold the ear out from the side of the head.

But bleeding can often continue, and the collection of blood beneath the skin can become infected or under so much pressure that the overlying skin simply dies.

The NHS can end up paying out up to 30,000 compensation for ears which have been lost altogether.

About 4% of children have a problem with prominent ears, most of these are evident at birth.

"Surgery, the conventional solution, is usually delayed until the age of five at the earliest, since before this, the cartilage framework of the ear is too soft and floppy to hold the stitches," said Mr Gault

"Children commonly suffer years of teasing before the problem is corrected."

But Mr Gault said many could also be helped at birth without surgery, by using a simple kit he has invented called Ear Buddies.

This is essentially a pliable splint that is placed in the fold of the ear and secured by tape.

The device holds the ear to the head, and when it is removed, about eight weeks later, the ear stays in place.

"The ears are very wobbly at birth and stay in any position you put them in," he said.

Mr Gault said some mothers tried the DIY approach, using tape to hold the ears in place. This too was effective - but not necessarily attractive.

Plastic surgery 'saved my life'
16 Mar 05 |  Health


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