Lilly’s Path to Better Hearing Through Ear Tubes

In February, Meaghan and Matt found themselves navigating a challenging chapter in their lives as parents. Their daughter, Lilly, then 23 months old, was struggling with chronic symptoms such as recurrent ear infections and persistent fluid buildup in her ears, which limited her ability to hear and talk.

Determined to find the best possible care, the Gainesville couple sought advice from the specialists at UF Health ENT and Allergy – The Oaks. The family’s decision to turn to UF Health was rooted in trust, after doctors played a crucial role in delivering Lilly safely into the world despite Meaghan’s pregnancy-related heart condition. Meaghan’s ongoing care with UF Health Cardiology – Springhill ensures her continued healing, while Lilly, now 2 years old, thrives under UF Health’s pediatric care.

Due to Lilly’s abnormal hearing test results, ENT specialists recommended ear tube surgery at the UF Health Children’s Surgical Center to prevent further hearing loss and end the chronic symptoms that were causing so much trouble.

Understanding ear tube surgery

Ear tube surgery, also known as tympanostomy or myringotomy, is a common procedure performed to alleviate chronic ear infections and related issues, particularly in children. During the surgery, a small incision is made in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain from the middle ear. A tiny tube, known as a tympanostomy tube or grommet, is then inserted into the incision.

These tubes serve several purposes:

Ventilation: They help ventilate the middle ear by allowing air to flow in and out, preventing the fluid buildup behind the eardrum.

Drainage: By keeping the middle ear aerated, the tubes help drain fluid, reducing the risk of recurrent infections.

Equalization of pressure: The tubes equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside environment, which can alleviate pain and prevent hearing loss associated with pressure imbalances.

Ear tube surgery is relatively quick and typically performed under general anesthesia. After the tubes are inserted, they usually remain in place for several months to a few years, depending on the individual’s condition.

In many cases, the tubes fall out on their own as the eardrum heals. However, in some instances, they need to be removed by a health care provider.

Overall, ear tube surgery is a safe and effective treatment option for those experiencing chronic ear infections or related issues.

A new beginning

Shortly after Lilly’s ear tube surgery, the family’s life changed.

According to Meaghan, not only has Lilly’s hearing significantly improved, but so has her speech — all within one month of her surgery. Before her ear tubes, Lilly had difficulty sleeping, often felt unhappy and could only communicate her needs through crying and mumbling. Now, Lilly can communicate by speaking in clear words. She smiles and dances more, and she sleeps better. Her post-operation hearing test came back with significantly improved results.

“Now, Lilly can also hear small noises,” Meaghan said. “It’s like she gets excited about it. She will whisper now, and she thinks it’s funny.”

The day of the surgery, Lilly, Meaghan and Matt said the staff at UF Health Children’s Surgical Center made their experience as comfortable as possible, with the team ready and the process quick and organized.

“They were amazing,” Meaghan said. “As soon as we walked in, they had everything prepared and were very organized and transparent about what the surgical process was going to be like. It was reassuring.”

The most difficult moment for Meaghan was seeing Lilly taken into the operating room. But she said it eased her mind to see the live, color-coded system displayed in the waiting room, which gives parents instant updates on their child’s surgery. Lilly’s procedure was successful; she recovered quickly with minimal discomfort and the entire process was practically painless.

“She was smiling and dancing afterward,” Meaghan said. “She was great.”

Compassionate care

Thomas Schrepfer, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at UF Health, led Lilly’s ear tube surgery. His expertise, combined with the support of the surgical team at UF Health Children’s Surgical Center, ensured Lilly’s procedure went smoothly. Meaghan said Dr. Schrepfer came to Lilly’s bed in the post-recovery room, showing pictures of the procedure and placement of the ear tubes, explaining how the surgery went.

“The surgeon himself, Dr. Schrepfer, was wonderful,” Meaghan said. “It stood out how personal he was. You could tell he really cared.”

The impact of Lilly’s surgery has been profound. Freed from the burden of chronic ear infections, Lilly has blossomed, communicates more confidently and with significantly improved hearing.

Today, Lilly, who recently celebrated her second birthday, embraces life with enthusiasm. For Meaghan and Matt, their daughter’s growth is a powerful reminder of the transformative impact of quality health care.

In sharing Lilly’s story, Meaghan and Matt hope to inspire other families facing similar challenges to seek help from health care providers.

“Your child is worth it. Their quality of life will improve, and they’ll thank you later. She can still swim. She has no long-term effects. The tubes are temporary and will probably fall out on their own,” Meaghan said. “Especially at UF Health, they will take great care of your little one.”

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