Boy (6) gets gift of hearing

A challenging pediatric surgery by a team of experts of va­rious medical disciplines has given Elijah Cloete (6) a new lease on life.

Elijah was born with underdeveloped ears and sealed ear canals, an unusual congenital medical condition known as microtia with bilateral congenital aural atresia.

Little Elijah underwent surgical preparation for a pair of custom-made prosthetic pinna, or external ears. He also received a hearing aid in an effort to enhance his quality of life.

The life-changing surgery was a team effort by the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at the Central University of Technology (CUT), Free State, the Medicross Kalahari Cataract, Eye and Day Hospital, and ophthalmologist Dr Erhardt Kidson.

The surgery was performed at the Medicross Kalahari Cataract, Eye and Day Hospital in Upington on 24 July. The hospital hosted the surgery, while Kidson donated his theatre time.

Dan Maritz, CUT spokes­person, said the CUT’s CRPM team and medical professionals provided their expertise and services pro bono.

Working with Prof. Cules van den Heever, maxillofacial prosthodontist, the CUT’s CRPM team produced a 3D-printed positioning device (known as a patient-specific surgical stent) after taking a CT scan of Elijah’s head.

“This stent is placed over the patient’s face in theatre and is essential in guiding the surgeon to accurately position the screws for the implants to which the prosthetic ears will be attached,” Maritz said.

He added that the team had performed the challenging surgery after weighing all the pros and cons.

Shirene Cloete, Elijah’s mother, believed that there might be a solution to her son’s condition after reading about Tylor Baker (15) in the media last year.

He was born without ear canals too, and had difficulty communicating.

He had been assisted through an intervention involving Van den Heever, the CRPM at the CUT and the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation, a private grant-making organisation.

Shirene then contacted Tylor’s parents, Nehemia and Deidre Doolabh, who helped her get in touch with the team.

This set the wheels in motion for Elijah to receive prosthetic ears and a bone-anchored hearing aid.

Thanks to the funding provided through the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation and Wohlers Associates, a rapid product development consulting firm, preparations to assist Elijah were soon underway.

“I am so grateful for everything these organisations and individuals are doing to help my son. I thank God for bringing them all together to make this possible,” Shirene said.

“To the family who helped me connect with the experts, the organisations that provided funding, Gerrie Booysen of the CRPM, Van den Heever, maxillofacial and oral surgeon Dr Charles van Niekerk, the friendly, caring staff of Medicross, and audiologists Julia Jensen and Andra Bester – I want to thank you all for helping Elijah to live a normal life.”

Van den Heever, the CUT team and Van Niekerk had to work closely together to meticulously plan how the implants, which will hold the prosthetic ears, should be placed.

Van Niekerk performed the procedure at the Medicross Kalahari Cataract, Eye and Day Hospital.

Elijah’s malformed external ears were surgically removed, and the implants were carefully positioned using the patient-specific surgical stent.

“After the initial surgery, we must wait three to four months for the bone to grow around the titanium implants and attach to them,” Van Niekerk said.

“Once we are satisfied that the implants are securely integrated with the bone, we will undertake the second phase of the surgery, where we will place small metal structures. These will form the pillars to which the prosthetic ears will attach with magnets,” he explained.