Life Stories and Experiences

Nicola's Story

Hello! My name is Nicola and I was born in 1985 with unilateral Microtia and Atresia.

Not much was known about Microtia when I was born, and after a few investigations my parents were advised that not much could be done to help me. There was discussion of surgery to open up my ear canal and help me to hear, but this never went ahead as it was deemed too risky. Instead, we were advised to wait a few years in the hope that new surgical interventions would become available.

I was four when I first discovered that my ears and hearing were a bit different to the people around me. I remember sitting in a circle at playgroup and being made to play Chinese whispers, with each person whispering into the ear of the person on their left. I have right sided Microtia, and as the person next to me prepared to whisper into my ear I remember turning my head to the side so that they could whisper into my left ear. As I watched everyone else, I was puzzled as to why nobody else was doing the same. By the time the whisper had made its way round the circle and back to me again, I’d turned myself round with my back to everyone so that my left ear was on the side of the direction that the sound was coming from. The person in charge swiftly ran over to turn me back round to face everyone again, leaving me very confused. I observed some more and it suddenly clicked – everyone else in the circle had two ears!

When I got home I had a good look in the mirror and discovered that I didn’t quite look the same as everyone else. I don’t remember feeling sad or self-conscious about it though, just intrigued. When I started school I coped as best as I could. After all, the world as I heard it was all I knew.

After a few years the surgical options available had advanced and I made the decision to have reconstructive surgery. I think that the decision on whether to have reconstructive surgery is a very personal one, and for some people the best option is not to operate. However, I feel that it was the right option for me personally.

My first operation took place the day before my ninth birthday, and the surgeon removed part of my rib to carve the framework of an ear. This was then positioned under my skin to form the beginnings of an ear. A few months later I had my second operation, which involved making me an ear lobe. My third operation took place when I was 11, and the surgeon released the framework of the ear from the side of my head, meaning that it now stuck out a little. A skin graft was then taken from the top of my leg to form the skin on the back of my ear. At 17 I had a fourth operation which involved taking cartilage from inside my left ear and fixing it to the back of my right ear so that it stuck out more. At the same time my left ear was repositioned to match my right one. I had my fifth operation at 23, and this involved implanting a metal fixture into my skull to allow me to wear a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA). I couldn’t believe how loud the world was when the device was switched on for the first time and whilst it took a lot of getting used to, getting a BAHA has changed my life!

I’ve never let the fact that I have Microtia deter me from doing anything and have always taken part in everything that I wanted to do. I enjoyed school and had a lovely group of supportive friends. As a child I took four different types of dance class simultaneously and performed in dance shows at the theatre. Music has always been a huge part of my life and I took lessons in keyboard/piano, drums and music theory (as well as the usual recorder lessons!). I’m now teaching myself guitar. I have also done some fashion modelling, including newspaper features and catwalk work. In 2010 I graduated from university with a BSc (hons) in Psychology. I also love to run and it is my ambition to run a marathon one day. I really hope this shows those with Microtia that you can still go on to achieve everything that you want to in life. If anything, it will serve in making you even more determined to achieve your goals – when you live your life having to do things slightly differently and needing to find creative solutions to certain situations it certainly fosters a ‘can do’ approach to everything!

I’m currently in the process of writing a book about Microtia and hope that I can utilise my experiences in a positive way to educate, support and empower others. I wouldn’t change my Microtia for the world!