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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 September 2007, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK
Celebrity Health - Sasha Gardner
Sasha Gardner
Sasha was born without a right ear
Reality TV star and model Sasha Gardner spent three weeks living on a landfill site.

She and the other contestants had to learn to survive on other people's rubbish for the Channel Four show 'Dumped'.

Sasha, who was born with one ear missing, recently took the first steps to have plastic surgery to rebuild the ear.

HOW DID YOU FIRST REALISE SOMETHING WAS WRONG?

I was born with microtia. This means that from birth I had no ear or hearing on the right side (microtia, affects about 1 in 6,000 children. In one in 10 microtia cases, both baby's ears will be affected).

My surgeon has transformed my life in every way
Sasha Gardner

Obviously because I was born with it I was always aware of it, but it wasn't until I went to school and was bullied really badly because of it that I realised how different I was.

HOW DID YOU GET DIAGNOSED?

I did have problems hearing because of it. I would ask people to repeat themselves, but I didn't like to keep doing it because they would get annoyed.

pre-surgery
Sasha before surgery

So I just stopped asking them what they had said. I missed out on a lot of conversations because of it.

Also when I was little it caused me problems with my balance and I used to fall over, but I learnt not to do that.

When I was about 12 or 13 I went to see an ear specialist who told me about my condition and advised me on what treatments were available, like surgery.

But although I wanted to have the surgery, I didn't feel ready.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE DIAGNOSIS?

When I was told about my condition I was upset and surprised at how rare it is and a bit too scared to think about treatment.

WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT?
When I first went to see the surgeon (Mr David Gault) I was 15.

He told me that there were a few options available to me. The first one being that he could make a prosthetic ear and drill two holes into the side of my head so that I could hook the ear on.

I would be able to remove the ear before I went to bed.

immediately after surgery
Sasha's new ear immediately after surgery

I wasn't overly enamoured with this option.

The second option was that he would do an operation to remove some large pieces of cartilage from under my rib.

He would then take a template from my good ear and shape the cartilage so that it's the same shape as an ear.

Next he would make a cut and slide the cartilage in to the side of my head (where the ear should be).

The whole thing was very traumatic for me but looking back its the best thing that has ever happened to me
Sasha Gardner

Two suction drains would be attached so that the skin would form properly around the ear.

Meanwhile, a lump of cartilage would be left just below the surface of the skin above where he removed it from near my ribs. This lump would stay there for six months, ready for the second stage of reconstruction so he wouldn't need to cut down to my ribs again.

The ear would be flat against my head and then on stage two he would cut behind the ear and place the lump behind.

This would raise the ear so it would look the same as the other. A skin graft would then be taken from the side of the leg and placed over where he cut.

At the age of 23 I decided to go ahead.

Currently, I still need stage two, but I am hoping to have it finished by the end of this year.

HOW DID YOU FEEL DURING THE TREATMENT?

I was very scared and worried. This was the biggest decision I had ever had to make.

I had always wanted to have it rectified as I was growing up but tried to just accept that this is what I had.

post-op recovery
Sasha hopes to have the second stage of reconstruction soon

When I was younger I didn't feel ready to put my mind and body through a operation as big as this and I thought I would wait and see how I felt when I was a bit older.

When I first woke up after the surgery I felt dreadful, and was bandaged all around my head.

Then the pain started to kick in and it wasn't a nice feeling.

I always knew it wouldn't be easy but they say "no pain no gain".

The side of my head really hurt and my chest. I found it really difficult to laugh, cough and walk.

My hair had to be shaved off on one side which I didn't like.

The whole thing was very traumatic for me but looking back its the best thing that has ever happened to me and it has turned my life around significantly.

HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW?

I can't express how amazing this has been for me. It has given me so much more confidence. I can wear sunglasses now for the first time. I can wear my hair up without people staring and making comments.

This has been a life changing experience for me and I wish I'd had the operation earlier but I was too apprehensive.

I just feel like a normal person now and this has given me the confidence to turn my hand to things that I wouldn't have attempted before like going on 'Dumped'.

I must admit I was a bit worried about going on the show because I knew I would have to wear my hair up and millions of people would see my ear.

But I thought 'I am ready for that.'

The ear is cosmetic, but the internal parts are all there and I am just missing the hole. So they say I could hear in that ear, but I haven't heard anything yet and I don't really think I will. But it would be fantastic.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO OTHER PEOPLE WITH THE SAME CONDITION?

Do what feels right for you. I personally waited longer than most people. I wanted to try and cope with the condition and was honestly a bit scared of the operation. Don't be scared.

Sometimes when your born with something it so easy just to try and get used to it. If you lose a limb in a car accident then it obviously would be very traumatic.

If you were born with no limb then you wouldn't know any difference. Its the same with this. When you have this operation and the ear starts to heal it feels really strange.

You feel more strange in the beginning because you're not used to having something. You don't want to touch it because it feels weird.

It's almost the same as putting an extra finger on someone and expecting them just to get on with it. Your body has to adapt to the change. When I had accepted my new ear I was overwhelmed by joy and happiness. Everything takes time and its the same with this.

My surgeon has transformed my life in every way.

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