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Hastings family seeks help for daughter’s ear surgery

Hastings resident Alyssa Wenskaug is hoping she’ll be able to get a new ear soon. The granddaughter of Don and Kathy Lothenbach and Francis and Marion Feidt, Alyssa and her family need about $85,000 before she’ll be able to hear properly and have a normal looking ear.

When Alyssa’s mother, Amy Wenskaug, was pregnant, Alyssa had an unusually fast heart rate. As soon as she was delivered, a whole team of doctors took her away from her mother to make sure little Alyssa was alright.

But instead of focusing on her heart, like Amy and her husband, Tim Wenskaug, expected, they were focused on her ear, something that, until that moment, hadn’t been any concern.

When Alyssa was born, doctors discovered that her ear canal hadn’t opened and the cartilage that makes up the outer portion of the ear hadn’t fully formed. At the time, the condition had doctors stumped.

“Nobody had a name for it, nobody knew what it was,” Amy said.

When they were able to leave the hospital, Tim and Amy started doing their own research and discovered their daughter had a condition called microtia and atresia. It’s not genetic, but it is rare, with only one out of every 8,000 to 10,000 births affected. In Alyssa’s condition, the inner ear and ear drum is normal; but because her ear canal never formed, bone is preventing any sound from entering.

Alyssa is 4 years old now, and so far has been growing up being completely deaf in her right ear. She’s been in and out of doctor appointments, and her parents were told by an ENT that they could attempt surgery when Alyssa was 6. A family friend introduced them to the Baha hearing aid, which converts sound into vibrations which are then sent through Alyssa’s bone so her inner ear can pick them up. The same friend also connected the family with Dr. John Reinisch in Los Angeles, Calif., who developed one of the leading surgical techniques to repair microtia.

For many decades, children with microtia had a new ear shape formed using their rib cage cartilage. The procedure was painful, and required children to be hospitalized. It also required surgery to be delayed until the child is older. Dr. Reinisch’s procedure creates a flexible ear framework and stretches a skin graft from the back of the opposite, healthy ear over the top, much like shrink wrap, Tim explained. The result is an ear that looks perfectly normal with less surgery. And since ears stop growing at about age 5 or 6, Amy said, they won’t have to worry about one of Alyssa’s ears being unnaturally small when she’s older.

Before the outer ear can be attached, Alyssa will first have to have an atresia surgery to open her ear canal. That process involves drilling through the bone, opening a canal to the ear drum. That surgery will be done by another doctor in Paolo Alto, Calif., about three or four months before the microtia surgery.

The problem for the Wenskaugs is the cost of the surgery. Because their doctor is world renowned, the practice requires full payment before the procedure is done, which means insurance can’t help. Both surgeries together come with a $65,000 price tag, and that doesn’t account for the thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses the family will incur in the months-long process.

They didn’t want to ask for help, they said, and looked for other financial options, but there were no other options available to them. Even though $85,000 is a lot of money, they said it could be an easy matter.

“If 8,500 people donated $10, we’d have enough money,” Amy said.

Although to some people, the surgery is mostly cosmetic, it’s more than that to the Wenskaugs. Being able to hear clearly out of both ears will help Alyssa develop proper speech patterns. The surgery will also give Alyssa a sort of normalcy as she grows up.

Alyssa was 18 months old when she surprised her mother by telling her, “Mom, I want an ear like yours,” Amy said. Although Tim and Amy have sometimes struggled with the decision of whether or not to go ahead with the surgery, Alyssa’s excitement has settled the issue.

“I know we’re doing the right thing,” Amy said.

Donations are being taken online at www.gofundme.com/t4mdu58. An account has also been set up at Wells Fargo Bank; people can donate to the “Alyssa Wenskaug’s donation benefit” fund from any Wells Fargo location.

A garage sale is also being planned to help raise money. The sale will be Aug. 6-8. Anyone interested in donating to the sale can email Tim at tims3311@yahoo.com.

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