"I was so thrilled that I cried," Isabelle Stark tells PEOPLE

By Cathy Free
July 02, 2015 12:10 PM
Courtesy Britta Mobley; Courtesy Ramona Stark

At a time when every teenager at her junior high school just wanted to fit in, Isabelle Stark always felt that she stuck out. She tried wearing beanies, growing her hair long and strategically adding extra curls, but there was no hiding her protruding ears.

“Kids called me ‘Dumbo,’ or said that I looked like a mouse,” recalls the Park City, Utah, girl, now 18. They’d even walk up to me and pull on my ears. I tried to brush it off, but almost every day, I went home and cried. For my entire life, my only wish was to have normal-sized ears.”

Now, thanks to Steven Mobley – a Salt Lake City plastic surgeon who was teased about his own large ears growing up – Isabelle doesn’t feel self-conscious any longer.

On June 19, Mobley pinned Isabelle’s ears back at no cost through his Mobley Foundation, a charity started in 2008 that provides otoplasty surgery (ear-pinning) to low-income school-aged children who are victims of bullying.

“I know what it’s like to be bullied about something you can’t control,” says Mobley, 45, who wore a long Luke Skywalker-inspired haircut in high school in an attempt to hide his ears.

“When the movie Top Gun came out and every guy wanted that Tom Cruise military haircut, I was crushed,” he tells PEOPLE. “I was shy and in hiding for most of my school years.”

In 2002, shortly after becoming a plastic surgeon, Mobley was heartbroken when he had to turn away a boy whose family couldn’t afford the cost of ear-pinning surgery.

“It was killing me – I wanted more than anything to donate a couple of hours of time to change this kid’s life, but there was no mechanism in place for me to do so,” he recalls. “That’s why I decided to finally do something. This isn’t just free cosmetic surgery – this is a charity that helps combat bullying secondary to having large ears.”

When she was younger, everyone told Isabelle that her protruding ears were cute. People would “ooh” and “awe” over her childhood photos, says Ramona Stark, a single mom of four daughters who runs an exercise studio in Park City.

Isabelle Stark at age 7
Courtesy Ramona Stark

“All of that changed, though, when she entered junior high,” she tells PEOPLE. “Kids were teasing her constantly. I looked into having surgery done for her, but it would have cost about $7,000 and it’s not covered by insurance. We thought it was just one more thing we couldn’t afford.”

But Ramona didn’t give up and took her search to the Internet, where she came across Mobley’s website. After Mobley determined that she was an ideal candidate for the surgery, Isabelle went with her mom to his office for the two-hour procedure, done under local anesthesia. For one week, she had to wear a special headband, then she returned to Mobley’s clinic for the big reveal.

When the headband and bandages were removed, “I was so thrilled that I cried,” Isabelle tells PEOPLE. “It was the biggest day of my life. I can’t say thank you enough. My ears are so natural now and have a perfect curve. I no longer feel that I have to hide them.”

Dr. Steven Mobley preparing Isabelle Stark's ears for ear-pinning surgery.
Courtesy of Britta Mobley

Helping Isabelle proved healing for Mobley as well.

“I’m really happy for Isabelle – now maybe she can move on to the next chapter of her life,” Mobley says. “To help remove that heartache and stigma for her was incredibly rewarding.”

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