MN girl born without outer ears now speaking, learning sign language

WANAMINGO, Minn. (KTTC) A 2-year-old Wanamingo girl -- missing most of her ears and suffering from several other health issues -- continues to make remarkable progress.

Mackenzie Brainard, who will turn 3 years old in January, was born with microtia (absence of the outer ears) and atresia (absence of the ear canals). These conditions require her to wear a hearing aid wrapped around her head.

[Without the hearing aids], she can hear that there is something going on but can't understand it," explained Mackenzie's mom, Becky.

"It would basically be like wearing really good ear muffs," added her dad, Mike.

In addition, Mackenzie was born with a smaller-than-normal jaw, which makes speaking and chewing difficult. She was also born with holes in her heart, which affects her energy.

When KTTC first met Mackenzie on Sept. 30, 2016, she couldn't move her mouth that much and had to be tube-fed. But her mouth has since gotten stronger, allowing her to eat solid food. When her feeding tube became unnecessary, it was removed in March. She even said her first word about a month ago.

"One day, I came home from work and walked in, and she started yelling, 'mama' as she ran through the living room towards me," said Mackenzie's mom, Becky. "I just wanted to cry."

In addition to "mama," Mackenzie can utter about five words total, including "daddy" and "grandma."

She has also learned between 150 to 200 signs, and now attends the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

"She looks forward to getting on the bus every morning," said Mike. "We go over there for sign language classes once a week, and we pull into the campus and she gets very excited."

Because Mackenzie is now able to move her mouth more, she has a broader smile too.

"Seeing that motion in her mouth and in her cheeks. Yeah, that was incredible," Mike said. "We're thrilled with it. Seeing that growth -- we didn't know where she'd be -- and just seeing the growth that she's made is just incredible."

And there are more good news. Last month, Mackenzie's doctor said her heart's doing so well, she won't need to return for followups for another five years.