Palestinian children with ear deformities have life changing operations

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10-year-old Oday Daraghmeh was born with an ear deformation, with one ear much smaller than the other.

For the Palestinian boy, who lives in the town of Toubas in the West Bank, the defect can lead to a number of problems with his hearing and even permanent deafness.

”He [Oday] was born like this, that he has a small ear, without a frame. That is a choice from God. Since he was born we couldn’t do anything. He was young. We visited doctors and associations and they said that there was nothing that we could do for him at the time,” Oday’s uncle Ahmed Daraghmeh told Reuters Television.

But now Oday is about to have a life changing operation where plastic surgeons will reconstruct his ear.

The operation for microtia, a congenital deformity where the external ear is underdeveloped, is going to be performed in the West Bank by a team of volunteer doctors from the United States, who will evaluate Oday’s condition before his surgery and handle his after-care.

Doctor John Van Aalst is leading the mission and says it takes three surgeries to give the patient a normal ear and restore regular hearing.

“The first operation takes around four hours. We take a cartilage here. We make the cartilage as an ear and then we put it under the skin. That’s the first operation, around four hours. The second surgery, we fix the skin. The third surgery we take the ear to the outside of the skin, and we put skin from here,” explained Van Aalst.

Palestinian hospitals are not well trained in plastic surgeries due to a lack of experience and facilities. And every year about 30,000 Palestinians are referred to East Jerusalem hospital, which specializes in general - but not plastic - surgeries.

The team of foreign doctors, led by Van Aalst, are training dozens of Palestinian surgeons in order to increase their competence and decrease the reliance on foreign doctors or Israeli hospitals.

The goal is to provide Palestinian surgeons with the skills and knowledge to independently perform these operations.

“In the end I am one of the surgeons who will learn this surgery. Because one in every 5000 new-borns has this deformity, so we have to have professionals in Palestine that have the same expertise as foreign surgeons,” said Doctor Saif Saed.
The team of Palestinian and foreign medics are due to operate on more than 60 children with cleft and ear problems.

The operations - which are carried out at a Hebron hospital, Ramallah hospital and a hospital in Nablus - are sponsored by the Palestinian Cleft Society and meant for children between the age of two months to 10-year-olds born with ear problems.

Oday’s uncle says the expensive surgery, which could only be done in Israeli hospitals until now, will allow Oday to lead a normal life.

“He is a young man who has a future ahead of him, studies and university, and in the future he will grow up and get married. We don’t want him to feel bad, because he started to feel as though society was looking at him, and I feel as though he was starting to have a complicated life,” said Daraghmeh.

The Palestinian Cleft Society was set up in 2007 and has since helped more than 1,000 patients, most of them children.

The society receives sponsorship from Operation Smile Charity, Smile Train, ReSurge International, Palestinian Ministry of Health and The Palestinian Medical Council.

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