Luca Vacchio, of Levittown, was born with hemifacial microsomia (HFM), a condition causing underdevelopment or no development of the face, ear and jaw.
Latest statistics show HFM affects one in 4,000 children.
Luca's mom, Christa, said that being born without an ear has been emotionally traumatizing for him and that his physical situation resulted in him feeling "different."
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Traditionally, a new ear would be created to correct HFM by using the child's rib cartilage, but such surgery was generally postponed until the patient was 10 years old to allow for a rib cage large enough to harvest the correct amount of tissue.
This method of rib cartilage reconstruction is also extremely painful, so Luca's parents searched for an alternate option.
"As new parents, we were very nervous scared for what the future was going to hold for our little Luca, being that he had no left ear," Christa said. "We researched far and wide, and we stumbled upon Dr. Bastidas. And we put our faith and our trust in him, and we could not 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 pioneered a new technique that allows him to create an ear out of cadaver rib cartilage using a 3-D printer.
"There was a risk puncturing a lung, and while the results were great, we had to wait until the child was 8, 9 or 10 years old for the rib cartilage to be big enough to do the harvest," he said.
The advantage to his method is that the time a child is under anesthesia is only 90 minutes, as compared to the traditional four to six hours.
In addition, the patient is discharged home after one hour instead of a one- to two-day overnight stay. Dr. Bastidas' method also does not require narcotic pain medication.
Luca underwent the first stage of his operation -- the placement of the new ear -- on December 15, 2021, and Christa says he is already showing signs of more self-confidence and less shyness.
"Now you can see the outline of his ear, and he has all the elements of a normal appearing ear," Dr. Bastidas said. " Obviously, it's still stuck to his head because he only had stage one, but it's going to look like a relatively normal ear."
During the second surgery, scheduled for April, Dr. Bastidas will remove the vestige ear remnant and raise the new ear from Luca's scalp to a position that will allow for the placement of a hearing aid.
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Getting this operation done significantly earlier has made a huge difference in Luca's confidence during a time when kids can be cruel.
"We don't have to worry much any more about bullying, and other kids, and his own self esteem as he grows up," Christa said.
Right now, there's not long term data regarding this operation, but the results so far are promising.
"I think this is going to be the future of all ear reconstruction," Dr. Bastidas said. "I'm sure whether it's for cancer, whether you're born without an ear, whether it's traumatic."
Luca's parents are forever grateful that their shy child has his spark back.
"We're so extremely happy and thankful for you, Dr. Bastidas, for what you've done for Luca," Christa said.
Since Luca is a huge fan of Iron Man -- who he admires for his great strength -- Luca was surprised by a visit from an Iron Man character Thursday to honor him for his strength.
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