MARS HILL, Maine — During a trip to the West Coast later this month, 4-year-old Bobbi Guerrette will wake up from a deep sleep to discover that something she always has wished for has come true.
The Mars Hill girl will wake up with two ears — and with earrings in both of them.
The daughter of Ryan and Jamie Guerrette, Bobbi was born with bilateral microtia with atresia, a condition that essentially means she was born without ears. In Bobbi’s case, one of her ears was not open and the other was nonfunctioning.
Readers of the Bangor Daily News have followed Bobbi’s story since December, when the Guerrette family and their supporters held fundraisers to help with the nearly $100,000 they needed to pay for surgeries to create both ears for Bobbi.
The Guerrettes’ health insurance would not cover the full cost of both surgeries. The family also needed help to pay for travel to and from California and for living expenses while on the West Coast. The hospital that was to conduct the surgeries does not bill insurance, so the family had to come up with the money for the procedures upfront.
A little more than a week after the BDN story about the fundraising campaign was published, anonymous donors came forward to help the family, indicating through their accountant that they wanted to pay the entire cost of the surgeries. The family got the news a few days before Christmas.
The first successful surgery was on April 26 at the California Ear Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. Surgeons created an ear, ear canal and eardrum. The family stayed on the West Coast for about a month before returning home. The family will head west again on Sept. 9 for the second surgery, which is scheduled for Sept. 13.
“Everyone is so excited, especially Bobbi,” Jamie Guerrette said during an interview Tuesday afternoon. Bobbi played nearby, pausing only to brush aside her mop of springy curls to show off her new ear.
“She packed over the weekend, and she can’t wait for the plane ride,” Guerrette said.
Bobbi has been able to hear with the help of a bone-anchored hearing aid surgically implanted when she was 3 months old. A brightly colored band around her head helps to keep it in place. Without ears, however, she has been unable to wear glasses, swim, stand on her head or tumble without damaging the hearing aid. She also hasn’t been able to do what she most wants: have her ears pierced so she can wear butterfly earrings like her older sister, Carly.
Jamie Guerrette said that the first surgery, to create the left ear, went “very smoothly,” and Bobbi left the hospital soon after the 10-hour procedure. She had minor problems with swelling and bleeding, but otherwise “was up and around 24 hours after the surgery,” according to her mother.
“She had a cup over her ear to protect it for the first month or so, but then it came off and she has been showing everyone her new ear,” she added. “It speaks very highly of the doctors and the hospital that she is looking forward to going back.”
At this point, the family is not sure when Bobbi will be able to get rid of the bone-anchored hearing aid for good, but Bobbi recognizes the power of her new ear more and more every day.
“We will be right in the middle of talking and she’ll interrupt and say, ‘Hey, I heard that out of my ear.’ It’s so awesome to hear that,” Guerrette said.
Since returning to the state, Bobbi has spent a busy summer in dance classes and at Vacation Bible School. The Guerrette family has devoted much of their time to raising money to benefit other children in need.
The donors who funded the surgeries stipulated two conditions for their contributions. The first was that when the family is reimbursed by the insurance companies for the partial cost of the surgery, they use 50 percent of that money to create college accounts for their two children — 25 percent for Bobbi and 25 percent for Carly.
The second condition was that the remaining money go to help other Maine children who need medical assistance. The family held a 75-mile benefit motorcycle ride this summer, in which Bobbi rode the entire route in a sidecar. Last month, another fundraiser at All-Star Gymnastics in Mars Hill attracted a significant crowd.
“Because of these fundraisers, we’ve been able to help 20 families with medical expenses,” said Guerrette. “We are in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization and organizing a board of directors so we can have more of a structure. We plan to have three or four fundraisers a year. We see a very different crowd at each fundraiser. It’s amazing how everyone has rallied around this one little girl. She really has brought communities together.”
Equally awesome, Guerrette noted, is that Bobbi finally will be able to realize her dream of having pierced ears.
“Once the doctors create her second ear, they will be able to pierce both ears right in the operating room,” she said.
And the family doesn’t even have to go out and buy earrings, Guerrette said Wednesday.
“Dozens of people from throughout the state have mailed her earrings,” she said with a grin. “The earrings are really what Bobbi is in this for.”
To read Bobbi’s story and keep track of her progress, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/bobbijoguerrette.