SALT LAKE CITY — A 21-year-old man had a free surgery to fix his ears that have been stretch with gauges so the doctor could share a message to people considering stretching.
As a teen, Dylan Olson wore large cosmetic plugs in his earlobes. He eventually had stretched the holes to an inch and three quarters in diameter. Wearing gauges, as he said, was "cool back then" but now at age 21, deciding to no longer wear the jewelry, he had to do something with his disfigured ears.
"I liked them for really a long time so I can't say I actually regret doing them just because I did like them at one point," Olson said. "But now I'm moving on to other things and cosmetically it's just not what I want anymore."
At his new job at Microsoft, Dylan decided he didn't need distractions, like the large holes in his ears. In his case, the ears would never shrink back to normal on their own. According to plastic surgeon Kimball Crofts, "once you get beyond about a half inch, which is about 12.7 millimeters, you've reached the point of no return."
Since the gauges were too big to heal naturally, the holes had to be closed surgically.
Crofts removed most of Dylan's gaping loops and brought everything back together again. He used plastic surgery techniques like wedging and chevrons to give the ears a semblance of normalcy and to minimize the scarring.
Five days after the hour-long surgery, Olson went back to see Dr. Crofts to have the sutures removed.
Olson said he didn't know what to expect, especially knowing he had stretched his ears beyond the limits of natural healing.
However, after the surgery Olson, "My ears looked pretty even, pretty balanced. They looked great and I had the ear lobes left that I wanted."
While the surgery typically costs between $1,500 and $3,000, Crofts fixed Olson's ears at no cost because in this case both doctor and patient had something they wanted to say to those considering gauging.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with gauging," Crofts said. "I just think it's a choice you have to make and live with the consequences. A lot of people do and they're happy with it, but it's just the young kids when they get them and all of a sudden things change and ‘Wow, what have I done?' "
The practice of stretching dates back thousands of years. In fact, an uncovered iceman mummy had seven and 11 millimeter gauged ears. Crofts said what was or is acceptable in many cultures and tribes, even now, does not always hold true in contemporary societies.
When I was a teenager I went through one job interview where I was told not to come in, not to sit down The HR representative simply told me she couldn't hire me because of my ears.
Olson said he learned from his experience and how his gauges affected his job prospects.
"When I was a teenager I went through one job interview where I was told not to come in, not to sit down," Olson said. "The HR representative simply told me she couldn't hire me because of my ears. 'It's just company policy,' she said. You need to make sure that you know what you're doing before you make any cosmetic decisions for your body."
Olson said there was a big difference in how he wanted to look as a teenager and how he wants to look now as an adult.
"Make sure you think long and hard about it and make sure that it's something you're prepared to live with," he said.
Crofts said he sees about one to two patients a month now wanting to have their stretched ears repaired.