Twelve-year-old Diego Neumaier Ortiz knows angels and miracles exist, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.
He’s living proof.
He was born poor in Puebla, Mexico, with Microtia, a rare birth defect that left both ears undeveloped, inside and out. Even with a hearing aid amplifying sound through his skull to the portion of inner ear that does exist, Diego’s world is almost silent.
“I have waited all these years,” said Diego through a translator. “I never thought this would happen.”
A visiting American doctor saw Diego nail win after win to become the junior gymnastics champion of Mexico. He contacted Dr. John Reinisch, a pioneer in ear reconstruction, who offered to take the complex case for free. A year later, Diego and his mother, Alma Rosa, are in his L.A. office where Diego makes a gift of his most valued possessions – his championship medals.
“I don’t have anything to give them, but this is so valuable to me,” said Diego. “I want to give them to Dr. Reinisch, because he is giving me something greater: two ears.”
“I’ll be happy if he’s happy,” said Reinisch.
Reinisch says Diego will have an ear that looks like a normal ear and hearing after one surgery.
It’s the day of the surgery. Dr. Reinisch will create the outer ear. His partner, Dr. Joseph Roberson, an ear, nose and throat specialist also working for free – will actually create an ear canal, allowing Diego to hear.
“This is a special thing we do,” said Roberson.
Doctors will drill a hole to reach the inner ear. They attach a custom-made synthetic ear to the new ear canal. They take a layer of skin from underneath the scalp to literally shrink wrap the ear with living tissue.
The operation takes nine hours. Diego’s mother has been waiting anxiously.
Roberson tells Alma Rosa that Diego has a good chance of getting hearing.
“Gracias, muchas gracias,” she responds.
Reinisch says the color will not be normal, and it will be swollen.
A week later back in L.A., Dr. Reinisch unwraps his gift to Diego.
“Excellente!” said Diego’s mother.
Swollen, but beautiful. A dream come true. Diego can’t stop smiling. His mother is overcome with emotion.
The following week Roberson removes gauze packing from Diego’s new ear canal and for the first time, he hears his mother’s voice.
Reinisch and Roberson feel very blessed and privileged to be a part of that.
“If we can make an impact on this boy’s life, that’s great,” said Reinisch.
“They’re angels to come into our lives,” said Alma Rosa.
The swelling will go down, and his hearing will improve day-by-day. Diego is scheduled to get a new left ear in December.