U.K. Model's Surprising Secret

If a surgeon is also attempting to restore a patient's hearing, the entire procedure can take even longer, said Dr. John Canady, president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgery.

"Virtually everyone [with microtia] has some degree of hearing loss in that affected ear, and that hearing loss may or may not be reparable," Canady told ABCNEWS.com. "If a CAT scan shows that the hearing is able to be reconstructed, then you'd combine those operations as part of the treatment planning."

Gault said that Gardner's surgery was performed purely for aesthetic reasons, and did not address her hearing loss.

When to Reconstruct

While Gardner waited until her late teens to get her own ear reconstructed, Canady said that determining when the best time for the surgery is function of a patient's age and the amount of rib cartilage they have.

"Ears continue to grow until you're about 5 years old," said Canady. "And if you're trying to match the size of the ear, which you are in this kind of surgery, then it becomes stable at around 5."

"The other issue in terms of timing is, like this girl in England, is if the reconstruction method you chose is one that uses rib cartilage, you want to make sure you have the most cartilage you can," said Canady.

The older you are, said Canady, the more rib cartilage you will have, which is why some people try to wait as long as possible before having the operation.

Besides the medical implications that accompany any surgery, Canady added that one of the biggest challenges he faces during ear reconstructions is with insurance companies, many of which often refuse to cover the operation if it's only for aesthetic reasons, and makes no attempt to improve the patient's hearing.

"This is more than just an apparent operation," said Canady. "If you need to wear glasses or sunglasses or a hearing aid, you need to help retain the glasses better. [Insurance companies' resistance] is very unfortunate, particularly for a kid who is being teased."

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