Musical Calgary student born without ears

A University of Calgary post-doctoral student and pianist has overcome a unique challenge – he was born without ears.
A U of C post-doctoral student and pianist talks about being born without ears. 2:27

A University of Calgary post-doctoral student and pianist has overcome a unique challenge — he was born without ears.

Francis Smith has Treacher-Collins Syndrome, a rare condition that causes severe facial deformities.

"I was born with no ears, totally no ears," he said. "Plus I was born with a cleft palate and no cheek bones or eye sockets. And doctors did not think I would survive. They thought I would be retarded and non-verbal."

• Listen to The Calgary Eyeopener's Karen Moxley’s report by clicking on the "Listen" button above.

Smith’s biological parents couldn't handle his medical needs and gave him up for adoption at birth.

He bounced between foster homes for a few years, and was finally scooped up by a family in Indiana. The Smith household was home to 10 adopted children with serious disabilities. Francis's adoptive parents put him into speech therapy and had him fitted with a hearing aid, allowing him to hear for the first time.

"The Smith family became my forever family," he said. "They were determined to get me off on the right foot. When I came to them I was non-verbal, I could not hear, I had no hearing aids and I was autistic. I had a tracheotomy and had to be fed through feeding tubes. So they had a lot of challenge working with me. They had to fight a lot of battles out in society and into schools."

Smith had another escape from bullying and judgment — the piano.

"Being born with no ears, it is a miracle to me that I can even hear music, much less play music," he said.

He thanks God for giving him an internal sense of music and rhythm and science for giving him the ability to hear.

"[I have] a type of hearing aid called bone conduction hearing aids, in which the hearing aid sets up vibration of the bone. So my inner ear can pick up the vibration of the surrounding bone and somehow it enables me to hear normally."

Francis has had more than 20 surgeries to rebuild almost his entire face. A deep gratitude for everything medical science has done for him inspired Francis to pursue sciences as a career and now he is a new post-doctoral student at the University of Calgary studying cranial and facial deformities similar to his own.

He is also a public speaker, meeting and encouraging kids and other people with Treachers Collins Syndrome and other deformities and challenges.

"My message to not only children, but their families and adults out there who have challenges, is to never give up and keep trying. God created me in the way he did for a special purpose like an artist creates a unique masterpiece."

Watch Francis Smith play piano by clicking on the image above.