Emmett Gervason with his new ear, the result of an eight-hour operation in late July in California. DON RICKERS

Earlier than expected return sees Emmett Gervason recuperating at home

Three-year-old Emmett Gervason’s life-altering, eight-hour ear surgery in California on July 29 appears to be a total success, says his relieved mother, Amanda, from the comfort of her rural Cream Street home in North Pelham.

“We were supposed to be there six weeks, but we were able to combine some appointments, and come home a bit early,” she said.

The admiration Amanda holds for the doctors who performed the surgery in Palo Alto, however, does not extend to certain motorists on the state’s highways.

“As far as the surgery and the healing process, that was all flawless. The trip was a bit of a nightmare.”

The Gervasons had been driving to one of Emmett’s follow-up appointments in Los Angeles a few weeks after his surgery, and were forced to take a detour due to a road-rage shooting.

“There was an accident ahead—everyone’s brake lights were coming on, so we slowed to a stop. Some guy behind us, who my husband Aaron had previously noted had been driving erratically, smoked our rental car from behind, and totalled the vehicle.”

Aaron has some significant injuries from the crash, including whiplash and a concussion, and is currently receiving physiotherapy. Amanda suffered whiplash and a lower back injury. Luckily, Emmett, who was facing backwards in a second-row car seat, wasn’t hurt.

The trip did allow Emmett to visit the beach during the stay in California, “but we had to be had to be super careful to avoid getting sand in his ear,” said his mom.

Emmett was born with pediatric microtia in his left ear, a congenital deformity in which the ear is small and misshapen. He also had atresia, a condition in which the ear canal is missing, causing deafness in the ear. Emmett had problems identifying the direction of sounds and coping with noise, and had several learning deficits affecting his speech and language skills.

Amanda said that the doctors did not need to construct any middle-ear prosthetics, other than an artificial eardrum. The procedure has not only potentially restored up to 80 percent of Emmett’s hearing, but has cosmetically resculpted his ear to a normal shape. Emmett was in good spirits after the surgery, though keeping him from running and jumping as the healing occurred was a challenge for his parents.

A dramatic improvement in Emmett’s hearing and cognitive functioning have already been observed.

“His speech is vastly improved—it’s the fact that he can actually hear what he’s saying,” Amanda said. “Emmett’s enunciation, and the complexities of putting sentences together that make actual sense, have really skyrocketed. A family friend came over a couple days after we got home and said that she couldn’t believe his clarity.”

Emmett has follow-up appointments scheduled with a doctor in Welland, with the healing process expected to take up to six months.

“We have to record videos of the ear’s improvement, which are reviewed by the California surgeons,” said Amanda.

Emmett has a hearing test scheduled in December.

“He’s been a little trooper dealing with his nightly regimen of ear drops and creams.”

Although Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital is capable of performing a similar corrective surgery, Emmett would not qualify for the operation until he turns ten, and his parents were unwilling to see him struggle developmentally and emotionally for seven years in the interim. Amanda also feels strongly that the operation in California provides a better result cosmetically than the surgery at Sick Kids, based on comments from parents whose own children had the procedure performed in Toronto.

“I’m such an advocate for the procedure done by the Palo Alto surgeons,” said Amanda, who noted that one has earned an international reputation, and attracts patients from around the world.

The Gervason’s total costs for the surgery, plus post-operative and travel expenses, will likely exceed a quarter million dollars. Friends organized a GoFundMe account in an effort to cover expenses, and the funds raised currently total over $228,000.

“The word ‘appreciation’ only conveys a fraction of what we’re feeling, said Amanda. “The stress of wondering how we could pay for all this, which has been looming over our heads, has been lifted. Emmett was always the priority. We’re just feel so thankful and so blessed, thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers.”

Amanda is still in the process of appealing to OHIP, in an effort to have the California procedure covered for other Ontario families.

“I need to have all my documents in by October 15 to the OHIP board. I’m expecting they will deny it again,” she said.