Tarragindi Girl Receives New, 3D-Printed Ears

3d printed ear
Harriet with Dr Joe Dusseldorp (Photo credit: joedusseldorp.com)

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.