Elijah was born without ears (bilateral atresia microtia) but, at 9 weeks premature, his parents’ first priority wasn’t his birth defect, it was saving his life.
“He was in the NICU for a month because he had holes in his lungs and struggled with breathing,” said Colleen, Elijah’s mom. “While we were in the NICU, staff began introducing us to specialists for his hearing so when we left the NICU we had a team in place to help him.”
Newborn hearing tests revealed that, despite not having outside ears or open ear canals, Elijah could hear. To allow sound to go straight to his middle ear for hearing, he was fitted with bone-anchored hearing aids at 3 ½ months old. The devices attached to a band that wrapped around his head to let sounds in.
As progress was made with Elijah’s hearing, the issue of speaking was still an unknown. The family started using baby sign language to communicate but, at age 1, Elijah decided he was ready for more by saying his first word, “flower.”
“Once I knew he was capable of speaking, we stopped signing and began working on his speech at home and in therapy,” said Colleen. “Every week we came to Akron Children’s for speech therapy and, at 8 years old, he graduated from the program. It was a huge success.”
In the midst of his speech therapy, Elijah’s family made the decision to give him ears for kindergarten.
“We decided to do the (ear) surgery for his quality of life… we knew there could be a negative impact on his self-esteem or confidence with peers as he got older,” said Colleen. “I met Dr. (Ananth) Murthy with a list of questions and he patiently and expertly answered every one…Dr. Murthy was the answer to my prayers.”
At age 4, Dr. Murthy worked on Elijah’s right ear first and then his left ear a few months later. The ear construction used cartilage from Elijah’s rib and required 3 separate surgeries per ear, including a skin graft, to create, attach and contour his ears.
Last year, Dr. Nelson fit Elijah with new hearing aids using small magnets attached behind his ears and inside his skull, which are more discreet-looking and help boost his self-esteem.
With major surgeries behind him, Elijah continues to gain confidence by trying new sports, leading by example at school and meeting with mental health specialists at Akron Children’s. Looking ahead, Elijah’s dream job is to be a pilot for Air Bear®.
Learn more about Akron Children’s Hospital’s innovative treatments to correct ear deformities in infancy by contacting our Ear Molding Clinic or visit our Pediatric Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Center for more information on reconstructive plastic surgery services for infants, children and teens.