Doctor Douglas Hetzler – The Kelly Slater of Surfer’s Ear Surgery

A few of us from the SurfEars team took a quick trip to the United Kingdom last week to meet with the legendary Doctor Douglas Hetzler from Santa Cruz, California. We were fortunate enough to catch him during the 2018 Surfing Medicine International – World  Conference in Newquay, Cornwall.

Dr. Hetzler is definitely one of the foremost within his field and to call him the ‘Kelly Slater of surfer’s ear surgery’ seems like a fair analogy or even ‘the Michelangelo of the ear canal’. Hetzler began developing his own way to perform the surgery in 1998 and since then he has successfully operated on over 2300 ear canals. Patients from all over the world are traveling to Santa Cruz to get their ears fixed by him – using chisels – no drills, no lasers, and no cuts behind the ear.

chisels The chisels that are used for the surgery. 

The reason why his surgery method is so effective is because he does not make any incisions behind the ear or drill into the ear. Instead he chisels the bone away from out of the ear canal. Hetzler truly is an innovator, visionary, and an artist – his studio is his operating room and his brushes are his range of 1mm straight and curved chisels. He has even developed his own operating chair, which allows him to sit straighter and keep his arms supported for longer periods of time – giving him better precision and strength.

Other ear surgeons may not be not as comfortable with his method of chiseling due to their lack of familiarity with this potentially challenging procedure, but the rewards of using the chiseling method are of great benefit to patients undergoing surgery.

Compared to other methods that involve cutting behind the ear and drilling through the ear canal, the chiseling method attacks the exostosis (the excessive bone growth) head on via the ear canal. Hetzler says the bone grows in layers – like an onion – so it is easiest to mobilize the bone with a chisel.  The chisel technique can protect the ear canal skin while also creating less noise than drilling – drilling can be up to 125 dB, which could easily cause damage to your hearing.

P1040927_2 Old technique involves cutting behind the ear to give the surgeon easier access to the ear canal. 

Most patients return to water sports (surfing) in about three weeks. Hetzler said that people going into surgery are not scared, they are actually delighted, and he even has lines waiting for him to book surgeries…okay maybe not physical lines, but a great deal of people waiting for him to get surgery.

The chiseling technique is not free from risks, and Dr. Hetzler makes sure to note that any procedure is only as safe as the person performing the procedure. Instruments that are “safe” in one person’s hands may be dangerous in another person’s hands. The old drilling technique is still widely used around the world, as it is an easier procedure for the surgeons to perform. But Dr. Hetzler is dedicated to teaching his technique to other ear doctors around the world.

It was truly inspiring to spend time with Dr. Hetzler and his passion for the subject was not to be missed. We left Cornwall wiser and more convinced that wearing earplugs is a pretty good idea.

See our video with Dr Hetzler here. 

Need your ears fixed? Get in contact with Dr. Hetzler’s office here.

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