The boy with an ear made from his rib

Eleven-year-old George Hoyle had to come to terms with being unable to hear properly and deal with bullies who picked on his disability but an astonishing operation has given him new hope
George Hoyle was born with a severely underdeveloped left ear, but now has a remarkably natural-looking new ear following a rare operation
George Hoyle was born with a severely underdeveloped left ear, but now has a remarkably natural-looking new ear following a rare operation Photo: Stuart Clakre/The Telegraph
A slice of his own rib cartilage implanted – under a small blanket of skin on the side of the head – has given an 11-year-old Cornish school boy a remarkably natural-looking new ear, in a two-operation procedure, which lasted 13 hours in total.
The rare process – called ear reconstruction – was completed just before Christmas, and today, George Hoyle, who was born with a severely underdeveloped left ear, is happily posing for photographs, serious-looking specs balanced perfectly on both sides of his head.
George, from Redruth, may still be a little reserved, but there is no doubting his relief – not to mention the delight of his entire family – 47-year-old mother Mandy and father David, who works in IT, and his four siblings Evan, 19, Henry, 17, Eti, 13 and Eloise, nine. They have seen George suffer the frustration of growing up not only with hearing impairment on his right side, but also no canal, and almost no actual outer ear, on his left.
In his short life so far, he has had to learn to manage a cumbersome hearing aid, master language and comprehension and deal with the bullies who picked on his disability.
Now thanks to the work of plastic surgeon Walid Sabbagh, a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in London, a man on a mission to create the “perfect” ear, George can hold his head high.
George with his mum Mandy and dad David (Stuart Clarke/The Telegraph)
George was born with almost no outer ear tissue on his left side; a condition called microtia that affects only 90 people per year in the UK.
“I was told that surgery might be able to help, and I assumed it could be fixed within a few months like a cleft palate,” said Mrs Hoyle.
However George needed to be old enough - both physically and mentally - to cope with two lengthy operations.
His problems worsened, gradually – and by the age of three, it became clear that not only could he not hear anything on his left side, but that his hearing on the right side was becoming more impaired.
“His behaviour was deteriorating, and he obviously couldn’t hear us at times,” said Mrs Hoyle.
Diagnosed with moderate to severe loss in his right ear, George was given a hearing aid with a receiver that had to be carried around in a bag about his neck and a speech therapist at his school helped maintain and improve his language skills.
Over the next few years, George withdrew into himself a little as a result of bullying. He said: “People had been teasing me. They called me names. It made me not want to go to school.”
Not all his peers were so unhelpful. His best friend, Olly, dressed up as George when the children were told to come in dressed as their hero for the day. “It was so sweet,” his mother said. “George had decided to do the same thing, and turned up looking like Olly. They hadn’t consulted each other at all.”
But some days the bullying clearly got to George. His parents bought him Pepe, a type of cross breed dog called a jackawawa, to cuddle at night, as he was too nervous to sleep alone.
Mr Sabbagh was able to go ahead with the procedure when George turned 10, even though the boy admits he was “really nervous about it”.
The first operation - in November 2013 - lasted seven hours.
“It was nerve-wracking; time just drags in these situations,” said Mrs Hoyle. “We waited the whole time in a room outside surgery, before being allowed to be at his bedside in recovery for when he woke up, his head swathed in a huge bandage.”
George added: ‘‘I woke up screaming.’’
Mr Sabbagh had harvested three stretches of cartilage from George’s lower left ribs - the left side was chosen so that George would at least have a pain-free right-hand side of his body - and then manipulated the cartilage into a natural smooth curve around a mould, taking into account the shape of the right ear. Then, he created a pocket on the left side of George’s head, and inserted the new ear under a protective mantle of skin, which shrinks to fit around the shaped cartilage.
The new ear was attached to the natural piece of ear which George was born with, and to the normal blood vessels.
The whole of last year was spent patiently waiting for the ear to become fully attached. The second half of the operation took place on December 15 and lasted for six hours.
The ear was effectively released from its protective coating, and additional cartilage placed behind the flap to wedge it away from the head in a natural position.
“Until very recently, the new ear would often get stuck back to the side of the head,” said Mr Sabbagh. “We’re experimenting all the time to stop that happening with physio and soon we hope to use an artificial type of cartilage to support the ear”.
Mr and Mrs Hoyle said that George bounced back much quicker this time, especially on day five when he was due to travel home.
“We hadn’t been looking forward to the long journey and George was a bit grumpy, but then five Arsenal players walked into his room for a surprise visit - the north London hospital has views across to the Emirates Stadium.
The players – who included Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Theo Walcott - came bearing Arsenal merchandise, most of which George passed on to Olly, a young Gunner.
“They were lovely and kind, and in no hurry,” said Mrs Hoyle. “George went from being as miserable as sin to bouncing with happiness.”
It took three more weeks for George to recover – the family are Jehovah’s Witnesses and do not celebrate Christmas – but there were lots of visitors and presents, including a massive card from the class.
George has a check-up in a month. He will never be able to hear using his left side; a replacement canal would not make up for the lack of middle ear bones, and he is unlikely to receive funding for an additional hearing aid, as his right aid is deemed sufficient.
His family are unruffled. “We’re pleased with how much his confidence has improved already,” said Mr Hoyle. “We’re just so proud of him.”

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