Luca Vacchio, of Levittown, was born with hemifacial microsomia (HFM), a condition causing underdevelopment or no development of the face, ear and jaw.
The latest statistics show that HFM affects one in every 4,000 children.
Luca’s mother, Christa, said being born without an ear was emotionally traumatic for him and his physical situation made him feel “different”.
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Traditionally, a new ear was created to correct the HFM using the child’s costal cartilage, but such surgery was usually postponed until the patient was 10 years old to allow for a ribcage large enough to harvest the right amount tissue.
This method of reconstructing the rib cartilage is also extremely painful, so Luca’s parents looked for another option.
“As new parents, we were very scared of what the future would hold for our little Luca, given that he didn’t have a left ear,” Christa said. “We did a lot of research and came across Dr. Bastidas. And we put our faith and trust in him, and we couldn’t be happier with the results and the outcome of Luca’s surgery. “
Enter Dr. Nicholas Bastidas, a pediatric plastic surgeon at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, who has developed a new technique that allows him to create an ear from cadaver rib cartilage using a 3D printer.
“There was a risk of puncturing a lung, and although the results were excellent, we had to wait until the child was 8, 9 or 10 years old for the costal cartilage to be big enough to harvest,” said- he declared.
The advantage of his method is that the time a child is under anesthesia is only 90 minutes, compared to the traditional four to six hours.
In addition, the patient is sent home after one hour instead of overnight stay of one to two days. Dr. Bastidas’ method also does not require narcotic painkillers.
Luca underwent the first stage of his surgery – placement of the new ear – on December 15, 2021, and Christa says he is already showing signs of more confidence and less shyness.
“Now you can see the outline of his ear, and he has all the elements of a normal-looking ear,” Dr. Bastidas said. “Obviously it’s still stuck to his head because he only had the first stage, but it’s going to sound like a relatively normal ear.”
During the second surgery, scheduled for April, Dr. Bastidas will remove the remnant of the ear and lift the new ear from Luca’s scalp into a position that will allow a hearing aid to be placed.
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Doing this surgery much earlier made a huge difference in Luca’s confidence in a time when children can be cruel.
“We no longer have to worry about bullying, other kids and his own self-esteem as he grows up,” Christa said.
Currently, there are no long-term data regarding this operation, but the results so far are promising.
“I think this will be the future of any ear reconstruction,” Dr. Bastidas said. “I’m sure it’s for the cancer, that you were born without an ear, that it’s traumatic.”
Luca’s parents are eternally grateful that their shy child has found his spark.
“We are extremely happy and grateful for you, Dr. Bastidas, for what you have done for Luca,” Christa said.
Since Luca is a big fan of Iron Man – whom he admires for his great strength – Luca was surprised when an Iron Man character visited on Thursday to honor him for his strength.
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