Tarragindi Girl Receives New, 3D-Printed Ears

Aside from being able to hear, having her ears pierced for earrings was Harriet Sanders’ dream. Today, advanced hearing aid technology and the wonders of 3D printing have combined to give this Tarragindi schoolgirl her heart’s desire, thanks to Sydney surgeon Dr Joe Dusseldorp.

Read: Tarragindi Girl’s Ear Surgery ‘Will Change Her Life Forever’

Harriet Sanders’ Story

Harriet Sanders, 6, suffered from two different conditions–bilateral microtia and atresia. She was diagnosed with hearing loss a day after she was born. 

Bilateral microtia, which happens in about 1 in 25,000 babies, is a birth defect where both external ears are missing completely. Atresia is the absence or closure of the external auditory ear canal. Both conditions strongly affected Harriet’s outer ear and ear canal’s development.

At only three weeks old, Harriet was fitted with bone-conducted hearing aids to help with her hearing loss. However, Harriet was also missing both ears, a rare occurence among sufferers of an already rare condition.

Whilst researching, Harriet’s mum, Anna, learned about ear reconstruction surgery, an uncommon procedure in Australia. She learned that most of the surgeries were done overseas. Also, they apparently had to wait until Harriet became old enough to go through reconstruction surgery.

Harriet Sanders
Photo credit: joedusseldorp.com
3D printed ears for Harriet Sanders
Photo credit: joedusseldorp.com

Fortunately, she met Dr Dusseldorp, a reconstructive plastic surgeon from Sydney who performed pioneering, 3D-printed ear implant surgery on a four-year-old boy in early 2019.

Despite the impending risk of pandemic lockdowns due to the pandemic, Dr Dusseldorp successfully performed Harriet’s reconstructive surgery in 2021. This made Harriet the first child with bilateral microtia to undergo custom, 3d-printed ear reconstruction in Australia.

Dr Dusseldorp modeled Harriet’s ears from the ears of her mum, using 3D scans, and shaped the ears carefully to suit her face, using her own skin and tissue within the 3D-printed ear.

The surgery took ten hours and reconstruction was done in stages, first one ear, then the second one after a few months.

At around the same period, doctors also implanted BAHAs, hearing devices that transmit sound from the outside world directly to the hearing nerves of her ears. Harriet had been wearing bilateral, bone-conducted hearing aids with a band on her head since infancy.

Finally, form + function equals Harriet’s new ears!

3D printed ears
Photo credit: joedusseldorp.com

Dr Dusseldorp also acknowledged Hear and Say, for helping raise funds for Harriet and for their continuing support for Microtia and Atresia families.

Read: Aspiring Tarragindi Teacher Participates in G8 Education Traineeship Program

Harriet’s family strongly believes that 3d-printed ear reconstruction is truly life-changing. Today, Harriet can confidently go through life with her head held high, able to hear, and wearing a pair of the pretty, little earrings she once only dreamt about.

Tarragindi Girl’s Ear Surgery ‘Will Change Her Life Forever’

Harriet Sanders, a prep student at St Elizabeth’s School, Tarragindi, recently underwent  ear reconstruction surgery – a procedure that will change her life forever.

Read: Tarragindi Teen Hayden Hume Excited to Make His Motorsports Debut

Harriet, 4, was born without fully formed ears because of bilateral microtia and atresia. According to the Ear Community, microtia is a congenital deformity wherein the ear does not fully develop during the first trimester of pregnancy whilst atresia refers to the absence or closure of the external auditory ear canal.

Harriet’s mother, Anna Sanders said that, through the years, they helped treat the little girl’s hearing loss through bone-conducted hearing aids. Anna described her daughter as a very bright, sassy, and funny little girl.  

But through a fundraising campaign led by local charity group ‘Hear and Say’, Harriet has been fitted with bilateral Cochlear BAHA 5 bone conduction hearing aids, a non-surgical hearing solution designed for children. It’s a headband-mounted hearing aid which conducts sound through the bone in Harriet’s forehead.

Harriet and her teacher Ms Brigitte Egan (Photo credit: catholicleader.com.au

Reconstructive Surgery

The reconstructive surgery involves two separate 10-12 hour surgeries by a specialist reconstructive surgeon using state of the art 3D printed ear technology. 

Dr Joe Dusseldorp, a reconstructive plastic surgeon based in Sydney, used modern technology to create a 3D print a scaffold of an ear using before connecting it to Harriet’s head.

The scaffold is created with tiny holes that will help Harriet’s tissue to grow into it; then from above her ear and inner thigh, it will be covered with skin grafts so it will look like a normal ear. The second part of Harriet’s surgery, which will be for her other ear, is scheduled in 2022.

Before this surgery was introduced in Australia, children with microtia and atresia, even had to go to the United States for the reconstruction surgery where it’s more expensive to have it done.

“We strongly believe that this will be life changing surgery for Harriet. It will mean that she can go through life with no physical deformity, giving her the confidence and strength she will need to succeed in all aspects of life,” Anna shared.