Ala. boy faces ear surgery for rare birth defect

ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) — As a doctor of audiology, Summer Heard spends her days helping improve people’s hearing. Her own 6-year-old son, Hayden, needs the help now.

Hayden is one of about 6,000 or so children born every year with a rare birth defect called microtia — which affects growth of the outer ear — and atresia, which causes a closure of the outer ear canal.

Summer and Cole Heard welcomed supporters at an Iron Bowl fundraiser at the Oxford Civic Center to raise money for costly surgeries that will give their son a new ear.

The Oxford couple said Hayden can hear fine in his left ear, but has “moderately severe” hearing loss in his right. The surgery won’t correct his hearing much, but it will reconstruct his ear, which never fully formed.

They didn’t learn of Hayden’s condition until he was born. As expectant parents often do, the couple talked about the possibility of their child being born with some type of deformity. Summer told her husband that if there was going to be anything wrong with their son, she’d be the most comfortable if it involved his hearing.

“Day one and she’s in the hospital bed getting me to bring up all her equipment to test his hearing,” Cole Heard said.

The decision to go through with the surgery wasn’t an easy one to make, the Heards said, because they raised Hayden to be confident regardless of his condition.

Their surgeon recommended the couple go through with the procedure before any changes occur to their insurance because of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Those changes could affect their coverage, they were told.

The Heards’ medical insurance may cover 80 percent of the cost of both surgeries — estimated at about $100,000 — but they’ve been told there is a chance the procedures won’t be covered. The surgeries have to be proven to be medically necessary, Heard said.

The family will also have to pay to travel to California for the surgery and stay for two weeks to make sure Hayden’s body accepts a skin graft.

The couple is also concerned that, while Hayden now says he’s happy with the way God made him, as he gets older he may think differently.

“He’s got a great sense of humor and good confidence, but one of these days he’s going to turn 12. He’s going to turn 13, and you’re not going to feel whole,” Cole Heard said.

The procedure is typically done over two separate surgeries, about nine months apart. Doctors will attach a synthetic ear structure which is then covered by the child’s own skin, often taken from the back of the head.

A separate ear canal repair could restore some hearing in his right ear, but on recommendation of their doctor the Heards have decided against that procedure.

Hayden will travel to Naples, Fla., in December to be fitted with a prosthetic ear, which they hope will help him become more comfortable with the change.

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