HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's a congenital disorder so rare and disfiguring that it takes cutting-edge, 3D technology to give patients like Lizzie Hernandez a better quality of life.
"I was born without ears, I only had these little lobes on each side," Lizzie Hernandez said as she pushed back her thick brunette hair while sitting in the exam room of her doctor's office.
The spirited 22-year-old has endured surgery after surgery during her young lifetime. Her first surgery was performed when she was just three days old.
The goal of the procedure was to help create ears and begin to reconstruct the craniofacial deformities caused by Treacher Collins syndrome. Over the years, other surgeries have helped to improve her jawline and most recently, her 19th surgery that made and implanted cheekbones to protect her face and eyes.
"When I first met her, (she was) very shy, not really sure about going through any surgeries," said surgeon Dr. Eric Payne with Memorial Hermann Memorial City.
Who could blame Hernandez for being apprehensive about anything that might make her face look even more different to the outside world? She had endured the brutal teasing of other children since at least the first grade.
"One day a kid asked me on the playground why I looked funny? Why does my eye look that way? Why do I not have ears -- and all these questions," Hernandez said.
It was an encounter that had a lasting impact.
"I got terribly embarrassed to be out and it got worse as I got older," she said.
To plan her surgeries, Dr. Payne used a high-tech replica to model and create cheek and orbital implants uniquely suited for Hernandez.
Dr. Payne says she will have other, more minor surgeries along the way, but the major procedures are over for Hernandez and the difference both externally and internally is heartwarming.
"Today she's very interactive, she's outgoing, she's happy," said Dr. Payne. "She's doing things that normal 20-year-old's do at her age and so it's amazing to see that."
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Doctors use cutting-edge technology to restore confidence to Houston-area woman with severe facial deformity
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