NEW HYDE PARK, NY — A 5-year-old Long Island boy born without a left ear now has a pair of his own, thanks to a life-changing surgical procedure.
Luca Vacchio, 5, of Levittown, was born with hemifacial microsomia (HFM), a condition causing underdevelopment or no development of the face, ear, and jaw. According to medical experts, it’s the second most common congenital disability of the face and affects one in 4,000 children.
To correct HFM, a surgeon would typically create a new ear using the child’s rib cartilage. However, doctors typically postpone the surgery until the child turns 10 — when there is enough rib cartilage to harvest.
Knowing that this option was extremely painful, Vacchio’s parents began exploring other options and found Dr. Nicholas Bastidas, a surgeon at Cohen Children’s Medical Center who revolutionized ear reconstruction by using cadaver tissue.
Northwell Health, which runs Cohen Children’s Medical Center, says Bastidas is the only surgeon in the world to perform such surgery.
“There are so many advantages to using cadaver tissue as opposed to the more traditional method,” said Bastidas. “This surgery only requires 90 minutes of anesthesia and the child is sent home one hour after surgery. Compare this to the older method, where a child is under anesthesia for 4-6 hours and has to endure a 1-2 day overnight stay.”
Another key difference between the two methods: the patient does not require narcotic pain medication. There is also virtually no chance of infection, according to Bastidas.
Vacchio underwent the first stage of his operation on Dec. 15, 2021, which involved the placement of the new ear. His final procedure is scheduled for next month. During this second surgery, Northwell says Bastidas will remove the vestigial ear remnant and raise the new ear from Vacchio’s scale to a position that will allow him to wear glasses or get a hearing aid, if needed.
“We were so worried about Luca’s future,” said mother Christa Vacchio. “When we found Dr. Bastidas and learned that surgery would be possible right away, we were so relieved to have this option. Now we can be confident that Luca will escape bullying when he goes to school.”
When asked who his favorite action hero was, Vacchio immediately said, “It’s Iron Man, because he’s so brave and strong.”
To honor Vacchio’s courage, a costume-clad Iron Man burst through the doors of the facility and presented him with an Iron Man action figure.