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Queensland schoolgirl gets special 3D-printed ear

Cloe Read, January 27, 2021 7:00PM The Courier-Mail

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Grace Smart starts Year 6 with an ear 3D printed just for her. Picture: John Gass media_cameraGrace Smart starts Year 6 with an ear 3D printed just for her. Picture: John Gass


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A 10-year-old girl has become the first person to undergo a patient-matched 3D-printed ear reconstruction* in groundbreaking* surgery.

Grace Smart was born with an absent external right ear, absent right ear canal* and weakness of some of the muscles of her face.

She had reconstructive surgery using a custom 3D-printed implant, receiving a bone-anchored hearing aid during the same procedure.

Grace, a non-identical twin who was born premature* at 29 weeks, made the decision to have the life-changing surgery in December.

The surgery, which took around 12 hours, was performed by chief of surgery Dr Stuart Bade at Queensland Children’s Hospital. It is the first operation of its kind to be done in Queensland.

Dr Bade said the state is a leader in these types of medical developments.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this type of procedure in Queensland – similar operations have only been done a couple times in Australia and overseas,” he said.

“But Grace is also unique in that as well as reconstructing the external ear, we extended the design of the implant to accommodate* for her facial asymmetry* … we could use the 3D imaging, photography and CT scans* in order to customise the implant for her unique facial features.

“It was a really good Christmas present for her.”

Grace’s mother Debbie said her daughter is excited to start Year 6 on Thursday at Camira State School, with the day marking the beginning of the first year with a new ear.

“She came out of the operation as bright and as bubbly as anything,” she said.

“It was wow. She just looked so different.

“It’s just amazing what he (Dr Bade) can do – he is just a fantastic doctor and I cannot think highly enough of him.”

Grace Smart media_cameraGrace Smart with mum Debbie Smart at the park before the start of the new school year. Picture: John Gass

Human ears are made up of several parts, including:

  • Pinna: external ear flap that collects sound waves and directs them into the ear canal
  • Ear canal: tube running from the outer ear to the eardrum
  • Ear drum: thin, cone-shaped membrane*. Sound waves hitting the ear drum make it vibrate, transmitting the sound to three tiny bones called the ossicles
  • Inner ear: includes the cochlea, the fluid-filled hearing organ. The cochlea receives the vibrations from the ossicles and converts them into electrical impulses. The auditory nerve sends these impulses to the brain


  • reconstruction: put something back together or make it how it should be
  • groundbreaking: doing something new; as in breaking new ground
  • ear canal: pathway running from the outer ear to the eardrum
  • premature: early
  • accommodate: take into account, fit around
  • asymmetry: describing something that is not symmetrical
  • CT scans: use a combination of X-rays and computers to make an image of the inside of your body
  • membrane: thin layer that forms a selective barrier, so some things can pass through and others can’t


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  1. What was different about Grace’s face when she was born?
  2. Which state does Grace live in?
  3. When did she decide to have this surgery?
  4. What year is Grace in at school?
  5. Who is Stuart Bade?


1. What would you like to ask?
Choose one of the people mentioned in the article  you would like to interview if you had the opportunity. Write a list of 5 interesting questions you would like to ask them in order to find out more.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Grace’s operation was “life changing” for her. Write a paragraph about an experience that has been life changing for you.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social Capability

I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick 3 nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

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