Pioneering eardrum surgery at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital eases pain for North Walsham woman

Pioneering eardrum replacement surgery is aiming to end years of pain and suffering for a North Norfolk woman.

Teacher Teresa Hughes now has a new eardrum, made from skin taken from her own scalp and shaped on a special mould created by surgeon John Phillips using a technique he learned on a study year in Canada and fashioned using Formula 1 style precision engineering.

Ms Hughes was a special needs and ICT teacher at Broadland High School before her health problems which have seen her endure years of ear infections leading to perforated eardrums.

Two routine operations to repair the drums failed, so she was happy to try the new style operation offered to her at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

'I have multiple health problems and just wanted to get rid of one of them, ' said Ms Hughes from Trafalgar Terrace, North Walsham, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and congenital hip problems which have resulted in her having two hip replacements, the first at the age of 26 and the second two years ago.

The ear problems meant years of 'severe pain, dizziness and discharge.' While there was no guarantee of success it was worth a try' she added.

In a two-hour operation the skin taken from beneath her scalp was fashioned over the mould and fitted into her ear. Her drum is intact, the infections gone, and it means she can also have hearing aids fitted for the first time.

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She can also swim again - one of the few forms of exercise she can do because of her arthritis.

'I am pleased with the operation and hope others can benefit too,' added Ms Hughes, who came to Norfolk in 2001 for her job at Hoveton having earlier done voluntary work overseas helping children with computer training in Uganda.

Surgeon Mr Phillips, 36, said conventional eardrum repairs were like 'patching a pane of glass in a broken window' which can lead to scarring and infections, while the new method was 'removing the whole frame' which is particularly useful when there is lots of scarring present from previous surgery.

The tissue was shaped around the mould like 'clingfilm', dried with a chemical fix then inserted in the ear providing a complete and sealed drum.

It was a technique learned while on a fellowship year in Vancouver, and developed working with sponsors DTR Medical with the help of engineering students at universities in Wales using computer assisted design technology similar to that used in making F1 racing car parts.

'The moulds are rather beautiful - they would make lovely paperweights - and can be used again and again because eardrums are pretty much the same size for everyone whether they are adults or children,' he explained.

Mr Hughes said he also hoped to design other therapies for N&N patients following other projects in Canada involving research into tinnitus and vertigo.

'One study offered patients a Nintendo Wii Fit balance board to help them recover from ear surgery' he added.

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