CLEVELAND - Samantha Daniels' baby pictures show a dimpled, adorable girl. But like many babies, one feature was a little out of proportion.
Samantha's parents felt certain their daughter would "grow into" her ears, which were distinctly protruding. But as Samantha grew, so did her ears—and problems associated with them.
"She would cry when we tried to put a bike helmet on her because it hurt her ears so badly," said her mother Susan Daniels.
By fourth grade, however, it was the taunting and teasing from other kids that hurt the most. Daniels said, "that is when she came home and said, they're starting to talk about me at school..called me monkey ears, Dumbo. One kid said she had freakishly large ears when she was in fifth grade. So it started to affect her."
The family had worked with Samantha's school to end the teasing, but it didn't stop. They knew that otoplasty—ear pinning surgery—could be an option, but they wanted it to be Samantha's decision and had talked to her about the possibility.
"It wasn't until a full year later that she actually came home sobbing that she couldn't take it anymore. She'd been picked on just one too many times. And she just said 'I'm ready. Let's do it.' " said her mother.
Samantha said, "After I would come home crying, I was done with people, done with peers making fun of me. I just wanted to start over with my ears."
Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital Chief of Plastics Dr. Gregory Lakin said, "I see kids on a daily basis coming in for something that they would like corrected. From birth trauma, a tumor, or deformity, they'd like to improve it."
Susan Daniels said when she took Samantha in for the first appointment, Lakin spoke to her daughter directly and asked why she was there.
"She said, 'I'd like you to fix my ears please.' And he said, 'That's what I wanted to hear. I want to hear that from you, not mom, not dad,' " said Daniels.
Lakin added, "Samantha is a beautiful girl, but her ear deformity was as severe as they come."
This was a decision that was long and seriously considered by the family, with an awareness that any surgery carries risks. However, "This was affecting how she felt about herself. She was becoming quiet, wasn't as outgoing, this was affecting who she was. And we didn't want it to get worse and knew this was the path she was on," Susan said.
A year ago, Samantha—anxious but determined—had her surgery. Her mother remembers the day Lakin took off the protective ear cups. When Samantha saw herself for the first time, "She was very emotional because she wasn't used to seeing herself like that. On the way home we kept asking, are you okay? Does it hurt? She said 'No. But I finally feel beautiful.' And I looked at my husband and he said 'Worth every penny.' "
Under some circumstances this type of surgery, which costs upward of $6,000, is covered by insurance. Most of the time, as in the Daniels' case, it is not.
Next month Samantha Daniels will head to junior high school, minus the daily anxiety she lived with for years. "I did the surgery to feel better about myself, and that's what happened. I'm very happy with it. Very emotional."