Gage Berger, a 6-year-old boy in Utah, recently got "life-changing" plastic surgery after suffering "years of bullying from kids who called him elf ears," according to his parents.
Prior to cosmetic ear pinning surgery, Gage had prominently protruding ears that made him the subject of unwanted teases and taunts, his dad Timothy Berger told ABC News. He said that over the past year, his "playful, outgoing" son had "changed." Gage started keeping to himself more, and he "didn't want to go to school."
"I'd catch him looking in the mirror and trying to pin them back, and when he got nervous or upset or when he was in trouble, he'd physically grab his ears," Timothy, 31, said. "It was subconscious. It was him thinking that his ears were the problem and that was why he must be in trouble."
Timothy said he and his wife, Kallie Berger, began to do research on cosmetic ear pinning surgery because they didn't want the bullying to permanently damage Gage.
"This isn't any different than taking your child to get braces to 'fix' the appearance of crooked teeth," Timothy said. "We explained to him the surgery, which is only a short two-hour procedure. He was so excited for it. Obviously, if he wasn't on board with it, we wouldn't have touched him. Ultimately, we told him it was up to him."
Gage decided he wanted to get ear-pinning surgery, and his parents got connected with facial plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Mobley, who runs the Mobley Foundation for Charitable Surgery in Salt Lake City, Utah. The foundation provides free cosmetic surgeries for school-aged children who are being bullied whose parents cannot afford the particular surgery they and their child wish to have.
Mobley told ABC News that like Gage, he was also picked on as kid for having big ears and that he also got ear-pinning surgery, though later at age 19. He added that he wants to emphasize that he isn't endorsing cosmetic surgery for kids and that "it's a very personal and private decision parents and children need to make together."
"I get a lot of patients with big ears, and some of them decide they like their ears and they have the strength and resilience to stand up to bullies," he said. "But I also have other patients who are just crushed, and they shouldn't be shamed for wanting a procedure that helps them gain back their confidence."
Mobley added that the minimum age he performs the procedure on children is 5, since the ear is then 70 to 80 percent the size of its full adult size. He said he also takes the child's mental outlook and maturity into consideration.
After consultation, Mobley said he deemed Gage OK for surgery. The 6-year-old went through the two-hour procedure under local anesthesia early this past September, Mobley said. Gage also brought along his beloved stuffed tiger named "Tygie" who also got the "surgery."
When Gage got his new ears unwrapped two days later, he "grinned from ear to ear," Mobley said.
"His smile said it all, and the parents had such a relived look in their eyes," he said. "I've been texting with his parents since then, and I'll see him in a few weeks for a two-month post-operation check-up where we'll hand over the official before-and-after pictures."
Gage's dad, Timothy, said that his son is "back to his old self again" and "couldn't be any happier."
"He's so much more confident," he said. "If anyone's picking on him for any other reason now, he'll go up to them. When he comes home from school, and I ask him how his day went, he isn't telling me no one wants to play with him anymore. He'll say things like, 'Everything was good! We played outside, and I made like 10 new friends!"