There is perhaps nothing more difficult that being a child, especially in grade school. There is homework, an entire new world waiting to be explored and inhabited, and new people to meet and play with.
This is the time when children start to discover their senses of self and who they are. They start to see what they are truly worth as well as where their place is on the school ground hierarchy. They start to notice the differences between themselves and their peers.
Before the material differences start to become a factor, the first difference many of these young children start to see are the physical differences between all of them. Some are taller and some are shorter. Some are fatter and some are skinnier. Some have longer hair and some have short hair. And everyone makes fun of everyone else.
However, even before the children have learned it is wrong to do so, every single one of them will pick on the one kid with a physical deformity. Maybe it is an extra finger, or a birthmark which looks really weird.
The child can now go two ways with this physical deformity which causes everyone to pick on them. There are many children who, given the right encouragement, are able to overcome this and become stronger because of it. There are many erudite kids who used this opportunity to become stronger and even become the popular kids in school.
However, there are many more who are ashamed of their deformities, and who simply dread going to school every day. They are unable to do anything except think about and be self conscious of their physical deformity. Those are the ones who shrink back out of society and become loners.
Yet there is a third option: surgery. Here is the story of one young deformed boy and his quest to look normal.
Being a little different
Whether we have kids in elementary school or still have memories of it, we all remember that one kid. Maybe they were a little weird, or maybe they looked a little different. Perhaps you were the odd man out, the one who looked a little weird or acted a little differently. Well, in Salt Lake City, Nevada, a little boy looked a little different, and experienced the same fear that so many others feel before going to school.
Gage Berger is your average six year old. He loves playing with toys – especially dinosaurs – and loves his stuffed animals. However, one thing which he absolutely does not love is going to school. This is because Berger was born with a little deformity which makes his ears stick out much more than is normal. Of course, this does not inhibit his ability to learn, but does inhibit his ability to do other things.
Little Gage is constantly made fun of while at school, so much so that he dreads going in every morning. Once an outgoing, playful, lively little tyke, the boy is now quiet and withdrawn, with people making fun of him every single day for having such protruding ears. They call him “elf ears,” amongst other horrible monikers. But perhaps the worst thing is when other adults point at the boy and laugh.
Low self esteem
The boy has such low self esteem and such high anxiety issues resulting from his deformed ears that he will spend hours looking at himself in the mirror, pinning his hears to his head in the hope that if he does it long enough, his ears will stay in place. However, no matter how hard he tried, his ears pop back in place, forming two giant protrusions from his head.
What will they say?
Tim and Kali Berger, the child’s parents, have tried all they can to console him. They notice that he gets extremely negative, self deprecating, and down on himself. They see that he has little to no self confidence, and would rather not be around people if he does not have to be – all because the little boy is afraid of what both children as well as adults will say when they see his ears.
A controversial decision
While most of our parents told us that there is not much that they can do, thus forcing us to develop our own personalities, Gage’s parents decided not to go this route and have something done about their child’s deformity. They were allegedly afraid of what would happen should he grow up with his big ears all of his life, and decided that they would actively do something to fix the issue.
Dr. Steven Mobley
The family enlisted the help of one Dr. Steven Mobley, a facial plastic surgeon who agreed to take on the six year old boy as his patient in Salt Lake City. While many people are wary against performing plastic surgery on a child as they are not yet 100 percent developed, Dr. Mobley had no problem attending to gage and helping him get his ears fixed. Gage’s story hit close to home, with the doctor himself getting his ears pinned back at age 19.
Dr. Mobley’s secret
Touching a bit upon the debate of whether or not children should get plastic surgery, Dr. Mobley says that many of the child patients he gets with big ears are able to be talked out of the surgery, and go on to be resilient and strong in the face of their oppressors. However, he also has other children come in who have just no hope left inside of them and are completely devastated. He agrees to operate on those cases.
In order to explain how he will be conducting the surgery and what will happen to him, Dr. Mobley shows Gage an intricate woodblock carving of every single part of the ear. The doctor explains to the young boy that he is missing the long, inner tubular sections of the ear known as the antihelix and the antihelical fold. This is the primary reason that Gage’s ears are so big, and what the doctors aim to recreate.
Going into surgery is scary for anyone, no matter how old you are. But for a little boy who is only of six years of age, it is understandably terrifying. He can not exactly understand the magnitude of what is going on, and was probably only told that he will be put to sleep and wake up with new ears. But with all of the machines around, and with all of the adults speaking to each other, it’s enough to scare anyone.
Gage has a stuffed tiger which he carries around with him everywhere and the doctor allowed him to take the stuffed animal into the operating room with him during his surgery. This is a common practice used in order to make it so that children are less afraid of doctors. In fact, Dr. Mobley told Gage that his stuffed tiger is also going to get the surgery, and their ears will be fixed together.
Talking to their kids
Another trick used to make sure that children are calm and not scared by everything which is going on around them is talking to them as if nothing is going to happen. The parents usually take on this task, and in the Inside Edition piece on gage, we can see and hear Gage’s parents giving their child words of encouragement, telling him that the second he wakes up, his ears will be good as new.
Gage’s mother Kali kisses her son as he goes off into the operating theatre. It is difficult to gauge what she’s feeling as Gage gets taken away by the doctors and hospital staff. Is she feeling happiness at the fact that her child will finally look normal? Fear from the possibility that the procedure will not work or that the doctors will make a mistake? Or perhaps regret in not letting him learn to fight for himself and giving him the easy way out.
Ears follow them everywhere
Dr. Mobley says that ear pinning may be helpful in certain cases such as Gage’s where the ears are at such an extreme angle that they will definitely cause some anxiety issues in children. They may be called certain derogatory names, names which will be applied to them throughout elementary, middle, and high school. No matter where they go to school, they will always be known by their ears.
The surgery begins. The doctor takes a medical sharpie and uses it in order to mark where the doctor and surgeon team will make cuts in the ears. They make these cuts in order to more fully and completely pin create the crease needed to pin the ear and make the ears look normal, as opposed to large and sticking out.
The next part of the operation is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. The doctors then take pieces of the young child’s skin from behind his ear. The next step in the process is to put in permanent stitches which will pull the ear back and closer to the head. A string is inserted in order to give the ear the fold it needs, making the antihelix and the antihelical fold. The entire process takes approximately two hours.
And finally, the moment of truth arrives. A couple of days after the surgery is over, it is now time to take off the bandages for the big reveal. Was it worth it? Are the ears fixed? It is at this point that the parents are hopefully asking more existential questions than that. Will paying for surgery be a better investment than having their son develop a personality? Will Gage get his confidence back?
Oh my Gosh
The bandages finally come off, and Gage is handed a mirror. He has a giant smile and the first thing he exclaims is “oh my Gosh.” Superficially, Gage looks perfect. His ears look like an average person’s and he feels that he will no longer be made fun of for the shape or size of his ears. But did he lose something in his surgery? Something intangible? Perhaps he lost a little bit of that thing which made Gage Gage.
His father Tim has a look on his face which belies his inner shock. He can not believe how good his son looks now that his ears are pinned back. But what is this teaching Gage? There is some speculation saying that Gage will now learn to judge people based upon their looks, and that when he sees another child or person later in life, Gage may make fun of them. Perhaps the father is seeing this future before his very eyes.
A handsome young man
The man narrating the Inside Story edition mentions that Gage now looks extremely handsome and that he is happy knowing that no one will ever call him “elf ears” again. But are looks truly everything? When looking at a side by side composite photo of Gage with his birth ears versus Gage post surgery, it is clear to see that post-surgery Gage is ecstatic. We hope that Gage will grow up to be a fine young gentleman who remembers what it was like to be made fun of.