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Cambria’s story: Hearing restored after minimally invasive eardrum reconstruction

April 06, 2021

Cambria Swanson, 16, is a straight-A student and an avid competitive swimmer. She’s also active in student government and the National Charity League. Her resume is impressive, especially considering the obstacles she’s overcome. 

At a young age, Cambria was diagnosed with persistent middle ear fluid, known as eustachian tube dysfunction. This made her more susceptible to recurrent ear infections, so she had ear tubes inserted. The ear tubes removed the fluid and reduced her need for recurrent antibiotics. However, over time she developed a small hole in her ear drum leading to slight hearing loss. Some of her teachers wore microphones to make sure she heard everything in class, but Cambria struggled to hear, especially when there was background noise. At swim meets, the need for ear plugs affected her performance in the water and made it difficult to hear the coach.

To maintain and drain the ear tubes, Cambria frequently visited ENT surgeon Dr. James W. Schroeder Jr., Program Director of the Pediatric Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery Fellowship at Lurie Children’s. “He was so good with Cambria, and made her so comfortable,” her mother Susan says.

In the fall of 2019, Dr. Schroeder told the family about a new procedure that could repair the ear drum perforation and eliminate the need for ear plugs and restore her hearing. Cambria said, “Let’s do it.”

Dr. Schroeder referred the Swansons to his partner at Lurie Children’s, Dr. Stephen Hoff, known for an endoscopic, minimally invasive ear surgery that closes the ear perforation that Cambria had, known as a tympanoplasty.

The procedure is done through the natural ear canal, without any visible incisions, which has a better recovery than traditional techniques. For Cambria, it was a success: The tympanic membrane in her ear was fully sealed. She recovered well after surgery, and her hearing test showed that her hearing was back to normal.

“We had an amazing experience with Dr. Hoff,” Susan says. “The surgery itself was a great experience, and we appreciated his good bedside manner.”

In addition to the medical expertise at Lurie Children’s, the Swansons are grateful for the team who has helped care for Cambria over the last several years. “Armando Morales, Dr. Hoff’s nurse, was amazing. You’d think we were his family when he’d call to check in. Dr. Schroeder was awesome for referring us to this team. They’re so willing to help us immediately when we call. It’s made a huge difference.”

Three months post-surgery, Cambria was able to jump back into the pool again. She’s also considering pursuing a medical career after her experience at Lurie Children’s.

“Throughout her course of treatment, Cambria and her mom Susan have been active participants in her care,” Armando Morales, RN, BSN, says. “It is wonderful working with them and being part of their team.”  

“I think the world of Lurie Children’s,” Susan says. “The doctors and the nurses are one of a kind.”

Lurie Children’s Endoscopic Ear Surgery Program

Transcanal Endoscopic Ear Surgery (TEES) is a minimally invasive approach for routine and complex ear procedures, and the premier component of Lurie Children’s Endoscopic Ear Surgery Program, led by Dr. Stephen Hoff.

Studies have shown that the outcomes for endoscopic ear surgery are as good or better than traditional techniques using the microscope. This includes repair of the eardrum, the ossicles, and removal of cholesteatoma. 

Dr. Hoff uses TEES for most ear procedures, when appropriate, and is at the forefront of new technology for endoscopic, minimally invasive techniques.

Learn more about Lurie Children’s Endoscopic Ear Surgery Program.