'Master of Disguise' Changes Many Lives
Nov. 29, 2005 — -- As the CIA's top "master of disguise" for spies and double agents, Bob Barron was well aware of the stakes as he created hundreds of faces and new identities. One suspicious-looking eyebrow or a misplaced ear could lead to fatal results.
"I had to put people in hiding, and I knew the disguise had to pass closest scrutiny of 6 to 12 inches away," he said, adding, "If they didn't have the right disguise, then their life was in jeopardy."
For nearly 25 years, his life was the definition of cloak and dagger. Barron often worked undercover himself as he traveled the globe remaking agents. He helped push the agency from its traditional hat-and-trench-coat days, as in "Three Days of the Condor," to disguises of incredibly intricate life-like silicone masks, "Mission Impossible" style.
Hollywood beckoned when Barron retired, but he had something else in mind. He couldn't shake the memory of images he'd seen at a conference of people with physical problems who truly needed his help.
"If you can change someone's identity, you can give that person their identity back with prosthetic devices," he said. "Wow."
Barron, owner and founder of Custom Prosthetic Designs (www.prosthesis.com), has devoted the last 10 years to giving severely disfigured people new faces and a way to be themselves again.
Among them is Ryan Romans, who was born with microtia -- a birth defect that left him missing an ear. For 18 years, he's kept his hair long -- and his attitude tough -- against the prying glances and cruel whispers.
"I'm who I am," Romans said, "so I just kept thinking that. If you don't like it, I'm sorry."
Months of painstaking work paid off. Barron literally baked a silicone ear in an oven, painting on finishing touches. The end result was overwhelming.
"Wow, now does that look like an ear?" Romans said, surveying the work. "Yeah, looks like an ear."
Beyond providing a normal look, the ear will actually help Romans' hearing and allow him to fulfill his dream of becoming an emergency technician -- now that he can actually wear a stethoscope.
Barron is a perfectionist. From capillaries to hair follicles, he nails the details.
His clients quickly become like family, forging a strong bond with the man who has made it possible for them to avoid the stares and public humiliation they say they used to feel.
It's that mixture of devotion and new-found confidence that brought Joyce GoBell into Barron's office, determined to show "Good Morning America" the miracle he'd wrought after her devastating bout with skin cancer.
GoBell's new nose is held on by magnets attached to a gold frame. Despite its realistic appearance, she can actually pop it off of her face.
The change has been dramatic for GoBell, who a few years ago could not even leave her house. "My husband, he had changed the bandaging for over two years before I could face a mirror," she said.
But thanks to the master of disguise, she has instead been brought out of hiding. "My daughter and my son, they've never hesitated for a moment to go out in public with me," she said, "but I'm sure they feel better, too, knowing that I have a face once again thanks to this man."
ABC News' Claire Shipman reported this story for "Good Morning America."