Having prosthetic ears fitted made Kim feel totally different, they boosted her morale and confidence
Kim Brown works for Liverpool City Council, as a Business Support Officer in Children’s Services.
Single and without children she has a great social life, going out with friends, work colleagues and her family, enjoying reading and going on holidays when she’s not at work.
Thalidomide seriously affected Kim’s ears and her hearing. She hopes to get a hearing dog by 2018 and is very excited about the chance it will give her to become more independent.
She recently had prosthetic ears fitted and it has changed her life so much for the better that she wants to share her story with other people affected by Thalidomide, or considering prosthetic ears themselves.
Life before surgery
“Thalidomide has had a significant effect on my life. I was born with a deformed left ear and no ear on the right side. For most of my life I kept my hair long to cover it, but in windy weather, when my hair got blown all over the place I found people looking at me.
When I was at school, other kids would stare at me and call me names.
It was really hard – I just wanted to be normal like everyone else but I often felt like I didn’t belong, getting extremely frustrated with myself, having to rely on people to do things for me.
I preferred to communicate with people by texts and emails, because I didn’t like speaking on the phone. I couldn’t hear what people were saying half the time – especially if they had an accent.
I have to wear glasses, and without the support of ears, they were always falling off.”
Making the decision to have surgery
“I’d had surgery in the past, from the age of just four weeks until I was a teenager, when I stopped because I was fed up with being in and out of hospitals like Myrtle Street Liverpool, Alder Hey Hospital and St Paul’s Eye Hospital.
Then I saw a television programme about a boy from London who had new ears made from some of his ribs and a skin graft. It made a real difference to his life and made me want to do it too.”
Finding the right solution
“I got in touch with Dr Dee Morrison at The Thalidomide Trust and she gave me the information I needed. There were a number of options; the first one was In London which wasn’t really right for me because it would’ve been hard to cope with the travel back and forth between London and Liverpool.
The second was surgery with Dr Woodford at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Dr Woodford did the ear surgery I had seen on television and wanted but explained that it would mean several operations and, at my age, a longer period of recovery. When you’re a child your bone is more flexible, and therefore easier to work with. He explained that with my history, my fear of needles and ‘White Coat Syndrome’ the alternative option of prosthetic ears offered by Dr Mike Rothera in Manchester might be the best one for me.
I did not want to go down that avenue, so I left things open with Dr Woodford and went to see Dr. Rothera to find out more.
I had a double appointment with both Dr Rothera and Carol Winters. They totally put me at ease straight away. Dr Rothera told me what would be involved and Carol showed me what the ears would look like.”
“My surgery was done by Dr Mike Rothera (ENT) and I had five operations in total.
The first operation took place in March 2016. I had a metal plate put into the left side of my skull because the bone density I had was too thin. I had had a bone conductor hearing aid – a box, wire and headband- since the age of two, which had made a deep indention where it sat, so Dr Rothera wanted to see if it would take before carrying on with the surgery. The metal plate worked - I was made up!
In June 2016 I had a second operation to remove my deformed ear and put a metal abutment into the metal plate I had put in previously. Operations three and four took care of the metal plate and abutment needed on the right side of my skull for the other ear.
I also had a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) put in on my right side during the fourth operation.
I had already had a BAHA fitted on my left side in December 2009, done by Dr Temple in Countess of Chester Hospital. When Dr Rothera fitted the one on my right side there was no point in seeing two doctors for BAHA appointments – so Dr Temple discharged me in June 2017.
My fifth operation was in March 2017, when Dr Rothera removed the partly-made skin grafted ear taken from my right arm, (which was started when I was small in Alder Hey Hospital by Dr Pracy) because he decided I had suffered enough trauma during my various ear surgeries.
With surgery over, it was time to get my prosthetic ears. They were done by Carol Winters (Oral Facial Clinic). I had so many appointments I lost count but she was brilliant and I was sad when she took early retirement. She has now been replaced by Pat Healey, who is lovely. “
“Before my surgery I had always had fears about hospitals because of what I had experienced when I was young. I was on a non clinical ward and the matron was horrible. The nurses used to pin me down to get the pre-med needle into me before I went down to theatre, and the fear has stayed with me ever since.
When I explained my fears to Dr Rothera, the team was brilliant with me on surgery days. The Anaesthetist put numbing cream on both my hands before they put the cannula in pre-theatre.”
Life after surgery
“I’m just getting over my surgery now and am very happy with my new ears. Carol explained how to keep them clean and I go back every year to get new ones – I have a second pair for best!
"My ears have made such a difference."
My morale is way up, I feel totally normal like everybody else and can’t stop buying earrings! I couldn’t buy them before – I only got the ring, bracelet and necklace but never the complete set.
I’m so glad I’ve gone through the surgery – my hospital phobias made it hard, but not having to stay in hospital after surgery made it a lot easier.
If other beneficiaries were considering this surgery I’d tell them to go for it. It’s different now, more advanced than when they tried to make ears for me in the 60s. I felt like a guinea pig and like the doctors were just experimenting on us - “The Thalidomiders”.
Now, I feel 100% better than before.
I see life differently now, because I feel different - and totally confident.”