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Hearing Again

Surgery restored a young Mass. Eye and Ear patient’s hearing, inspiring an interest in medicine

It was a night like any other. Madeline Stickley, now 17 years old, was walking to dinner from her boarding school dormitory when an SUV hit her in a pedestrian crosswalk.

She was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was treated for head trauma and a broken leg. While in recovery from a series of surgeries, she began to notice that she couldn’t hear very well.

“Madeline was in the PICU for two weeks, and, during that time, we started to notice that her hearing had significantly declined in her right ear,” said Clare Powell, Madeline’s mother. “We were hoping that her hearing would return once fluid from her injuries drained, but unfortunately it didn’t.”

Her doctors contacted the Pediatric Otolaryngology Division at Massachusetts Eye and Ear for an evaluation, which confirmed her hearing loss. The underlying cause was yet to be determined, but doctors told Madeline that surgery would likely be necessary to bring her hearing back.

Madeline Stickley, 17 years old, lost her hearing in a car accident last year. Surgery to repair some tiny broken bones in her ear brought back much of her hearing.

The power of a teaching hospital

Soon after, Madeline and her family sought care from Michael S. Cohen, MD, Director of Pediatric Hearing Loss at Mass. Eye and Ear.

“Right away, we had access to world class expertise through Dr. Cohen and his team,” said Clare. “You can tell that he really loves what he does. He was willing to explain every step of the process.”

“That’s the power of a teaching hospital. We didn’t have to look far to find the right care. It made a big difference,” she said.

Dr. Cohen’s evaluation found that the impact of the accident fractured and moved some tiny bones, the stapes and incus bones, in Madeline’s ear. In addition, as she was recovering from her other injuries, her body was also trying to repair these bones, leading to a buildup of scar tissue.

To fix this, Dr. Cohen performed an ossiculoplasty, which is a reconstructive procedure that aims to repair such fractures and remove damaging scar tissue.

Madeline was told that her hearing outcomes could vary, as there was more damage in her ear than originally expected.

Fortunately, she had the outcome she was hoping for.

The reconstructive surgery was a success. Her post-surgery hearing tests showed significant improvement, which Dr. Cohen noted was excellent given her prognosis.

“In a loud room, I still favor my left ear. But overall it’s a huge improvement,” said Madeline. “I was originally instructed to use a hearing aid in my right ear following surgery, but after two months, my hearing improved enough to no longer need it.”

Madeline’s experience recovering from the car accident has inspired her interest in medicine.

Falling in love with medicine

Now just starting her senior year of high school, Madeline is feeling back to her old self – but with a new passion. This whole experience has brought forward a new interest in biology and medicine.

“It was comforting to have Dr. Cohen there for me,” said Madeline. “It was also cool to learn about my injuries and what the surgery entailed from him. It gave me a new love for the body and how it works.”

The prospect for a career in medicine now draws her interest. Just this past summer, she participated in the Yale University Young Global Scholars program, and her area of focus was biological and biomedical sciences. She even shadowed Dr. Cohen last month.

“What was fun for both Madeline and Dr. Cohen was to discover this kinship based off their mutual love of science and medicine,” said Clare. “We are very grateful for all of the care and mentorship he has provided our family.”

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