National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor
Dr. Arturo Bonilla (founder of The Microtia-Congenital Ear Institute) and
Gordon Hartman (for extraordinary dedication to inclusion of individuals with special needs as valued members of society).
Dr. Arturo Bonilla, a native San Antonian, attended Central Catholic High School, where he was state-ranked as a freshman tennis player and achieved district championship in both singles and doubles for two years in a row. At St. Mary’s University, he played #1 on the St. Mary’s University Tennis Team. Young Arturo initially thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps, delivering babies as an obstetric/gynecologist. However, while attending Medical School at UT Houston, he was instead drawn to pediatric surgery, influenced by his older brother’s study of pediatric otolaryngology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
During several surgical residencies, Dr. Bonilla performed many successful operations between 1989 and 1994 on children with congenital pediatric ear, nose, and throat deformities. He began to focus on congenital ear deformities during post-doctorate training as a Pediatric Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Clinical Fellow (1994-95) and National Institute of Health Fellow (1995-96) at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. When one of his young patients born without an ear told him that, for the first time in his life, he could hear birds chirp, Dr. Bonilla realized what his life’s work would be.
Growing a Medical Practice to Serve Children with Ear Deformities
After returning with his family to San Antonio, Dr. Bonilla founded the Microtia-Congenital Ear Institute. Read More
Dr. Bonilla has more than 25 years of experience, with over 5,000 pediatric microtia patients worldwide. Dr. Bonilla has earned distinction as the world’s only surgeon exclusively treating children with microtia. Dr. Bonilla says, “You will never see an adult patient in my office.” Although his practice is not nonprofit, he has performed charity surgeries on patients from all over the world the entire time he has been a specialist. For example, in 2015 boys from Columbia and Guatemala received, free of charge, life-changing ear reconstructions from Dr. Bonilla at North Baptist Hospital in San Antonio.
Because Dr. Bonilla sees 10-15 patients in his office in one morning, his waiting room serves as an informal support group for families of children with ear deformities, where they meet and often become lifelong friends. Caretakers of patients also advocate for the benefits of this type of pediatric surgery to other families with affected children.
Dr. Bonilla helped develop and uses the “gold standard” surgical technique for ear reconstruction, extracting rib cartilage from the patient to sculpt a replacement ear, and hold it in place with a loose skin covering. Further surgeries perfect the new ear’s shape with an additional skin graft. Using the child’s own cartilage has many advantages versus non-tissue options. Usually less surgical time and anesthesia are required. The risk of fracture of cartilage is rare
with much less risk of rejection or infection. Because cartilage lasts a lifetime, the new ear will grow, with no worry about exposure or rejection, for the rest of the child’s life.
Innovation in Reconstructive Ear Implant Surgery
Dr. Bonilla is currently involved in developing an advance in the field of tissue engineering: 3-D printing of a new ear. This first-in-human (Phase 1/2a) study has been sponsored by the FDA’s Investigational New Drug/Biologic (IND) program. The ongoing clinical trial involves 11 patients aged 6-25 years old, and is anticipated to take approximately 18- to 21-months to recruit and enroll the targeted number of subjects, and up to 5 additional years to complete the long-term follow-up.
As Principal Investigator, Dr. Bonilla is working with 3DBio Therapeutics to design an implant product called “AuriNovo” that is sized and shaped specifically for a given patient. During microtia reconstruction surgery, Dr. Bonilla places the overshell component parts around the biologic components, sutures the outside overshell parts together, and implants the entire AuriNovo product (overshell and biologic components) under the skin or skin flap. The implantation procedure varies based on the surgeon’s chosen technique.
For the world’s first successful ear transplant, done by Dr. Bonilla in March 2022, a small sample of a woman’s own cells was turned into billions of cells using several proprietary processes at 3DBio Therapeutics. To 3-D print the ear, living cells were mixed with the company’s collagen-based bio-ink, “like chocolate chips mixed into cookie dough ice cream,” according to Nathaniel Bachrach, 3DBio’s chief scientific officer. The replacement ear, printed in a shape that precisely matched the woman’s left ear, will continue to regenerate cartilage tissue, giving it the look and feel of a natural ear, the company said. Cartilage cells originated from the patient’s own tissue make the new ear unlikely to be rejected by the body. Dr. Bonilla, who performed the reconstructive surgery, said, “If everything goes as planned, this will revolutionize the way this [surgery] is done.” See the New York Times article by right-clicking on either photo below and selecting “Open link in new tab”:
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Education and Entrepreneurial Healthcare Advocacy
Dr. Bonilla prioritizes education and support of his youthful patients. His practice’s website, Microtia-Congenital-Ear Institute International Center for Ear Reconstruction contains numerous helpful visual aids, links, text, and videos. In them, Dr. Bonilla explains the complexities of all the various options for pediatric ear replacement surgery and hearing loss treatment. You may access the website NOW by highlighting the link below and right-clicking on “Open Hyperlink”:
Dr. Bonilla also received entrepreneurial training in 2013-2014 at Babson College’s Olin School of Business. He has actively promoted therapeutic devices, modalities, and business opportunities that couple health-consciousness with investment potential. Elected to the Board of Directors of Seno Medical Instruments in 2007, Dr. Bonilla helped Seno advance its now FDA approved, patented opto-acoustic imaging device that can detect early breast cancer by using combined laser/ultrasound technology. He is a founder of Dominion Aesthetic Technologies, an FDA approved laser aesthetic company that assists in fat reduction. He is presently working on the manufacturing of bone-conduction open-ear headphones. He is also an investor in Foundation Surgical Hospital.
For decades, Dr. Bonilla has used his insight, surgical skill, generosity, and compassion to advance medical treatments for a variety of ailments. He is most renowned for his groundbreaking work healing ear abnormalities in children that damage both hearing and self esteem. He is a stellar role model for aspiring young Hispanics, and HSFE is proud to welcome him into the distinguished group of National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor members.
Gordon Hartman, a native San Antonian, has dedicated his life to providing opportunities for individuals with special needs of many kinds. While still in his teens, Hartman transformed himself from a landscaper into a home builder. By age 23, he had commenced in earnest a career in land development. He established Hartman Homes, which eventually became the largest locally-owned builder of housing for low- to moderate-income families. Twenty-two years of successfully running home construction businesses earned Hartman prestigious awards: membership in both the San Antonio Business Hall of Fame and the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Nonprofit Developer of Unique Amusement Park
In 2005, Hartman sold his real estate development, mortgage, title, and insurance companies, intending to retire. Read More
The Hartmans’ daughter Morgan, who had been born with cognitive and physical special needs, inspired their devotion to the nonprofit’s mission of full inclusion for all. In 2006, when Morgan was 12, vacationing with her parents, she was swimming in the hotel pool and saw other children playing with a ball. She wanted to join their game but was unable to verbally say so. Morgan attempted to communicate by hitting their ball, which scattered them, a desertion that saddened and confused her. Hartman considered how those with special needs, like his daughter, cannot participate in many fun activities either because of being misunderstood by others, or as result of being overwhelmed by sounds, lights, and crowds. He vowed to do something.
Hartman consulted with other parents like himself, and realized the need for an amusement park whose theme was accessibility for all, regardless of impairment. Motivated, he spent the next three years raising $36 million of his own and others’ funds. Working with doctors, therapists, and other professionals, Hartman designed and built something completely unique, the innovative 25-acre amusement complex that bears his daughter’s name.
Morgan’s Wonderland opened in 2010, with many features that go beyond federal accessibility regulations for those with disabilities (termed ADA-compliant). For example, the facility has no fluorescent or flashing lights, to accommondate children with sensitivities, or who are prone to seizures. The swings, carousel, train, and Ferris wheel are all wheelchair-accessible. Families are welcome to bring their own special dietary items to eat there. Special needs also include financial need that many visitors with disabilities face. For them, admission is free.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island
Hartman’s experience and contacts allowed him to serve as general contractor, overseeing design, engineering, architecture, and construction for Morgan’s Wonderland and its subsequent expansion. Addressing the problem of waning attendance in the sweltering San Antonio summer months, Hartman pressed on to raise $17 million more for a splash park addition, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, which opened in June 2017.
Devising a water-based attraction that is fully accessible included collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh to design three types of pneumatic waterproof wheelchairs into which visitors can be transferred by Valet attendants. The park also provides complimentary waterproof bags for ventilators and O2 water-collar covers for those who need to cover tracheas. Hartman’s foresight and diligence were rewarded in 2017 with a “Leading Edge Award” by the World Waterpark Association; “Park of the Year” by Amusement Today, a theme-park industry publication; and in 2018, selection by TIME magazine as one of the World’s Greatest Places. Both Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island received Paralyzed Veterans of America’s “2018 Barrier Free America” award.
Rewards are also personal. Jamie Friedlander, writing for Success magazine in 2018, asked about this. “The thing that’s most rewarding are the smiles and the comments from parents and caregivers,” Hartman says. He mentioned a photograph of a young boy smiling that he hung in his office. The child’s parents sent it, saying they had never before seen their son smile like that.
Shelby Skrhak, also of Success magazine, asked Hartman in 2017 about his commitment to inclusivity. “When I ran numerous companies, I’d come home at the end of the day literally exhausted from the stress,” Hartman said. “Now I come home with an enormous amount of energy. The reason is because, before it was just about trying to hit a bottom line all the time, whereas now it’s about fulfillment.”
Morgan Hartman, now 28, has the cognitive understanding of a 5-year old. She cannot comprehend how much Morgan’s Wonderland has meant to the millions who have come to her park from all over the world for the dozen years it’s been open. Hartman says Morgan does think it’s cool that the place is named after her. When she does visit the park, Morgan is treated like the celebrity she is.
More Fun, Fitness, and Fulfillment
More recently, Hartman has continued to create opportunities for those with special needs. Fun and fitness are provided by two more expansions. Morgan’s Wonderland Sports Complex was completed in 2020 and officially opened in 2021. This fully-inclusive sports complex of 3 acres houses the office of Special Olympics Texas and hosts its annual Summer Games. Athletes of all abilities may participate and compete in baseball, basketball, football, pickleball, softball, tennis, and volleyball. Morgan’s Wonderland Camp offers day, weekend, or week-long camp sessions. Its facilities can accommodate up to 525 campers at a time, of all ages and abilities, to try archery, cycling, horseback riding, swimming, even ziplines, and a challenge course.
Hartman’s commitment to inclusion extends to hiring and education. One third of the employees at the park complex have special needs. Also located within the park is The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland, a school for children with special needs aged 12-24, and The Bridge Program, which helps these young adults move into life after school graduation. Teaching them life skills and job skills to use as adults is important, says Hartman. “We need to not just say it. We need to do it.”
The next challenge Hartman is tackling involves opening a collaborative Multi-Assistance Center (MAC) on site at Morgan’s Wonderland. A 165,000 sq. ft. building, opening in Fall 2022, will house 30 partner organizations working together to coordinate medical, therapeutic, and social needs of people with cognitive and physical disabilities. The Hartmans were fortunate to be able to provide these services to their daughter. They intend for MAC to offer many other parents and caregivers the same advantage. Hartman anticipates that MAC will be a model for excellence in service provision that can be replicated nationally and internationally.
Successful development of award-winning recreational facilities, as well as world-class models for employment, education, and services to special needs families, might be enough for some. But Hartman is not resting on his many laurels. Hartman continues working to improve health and well being for all, throughout San Antonio and Bexar County. During the pandemic in 2020, Hartman headed the COVID-19 Community Action working group that has planned for the area’s long-term recovery and identified resources to make that happen.
Through the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, $86 million has already been committed to improving the lives of people with special needs. Going forward, Gordon Hartman became the 210th member of the Giving Pledge, committing to donate 95% of the family’s financial resources to philanthropy or charitable causes.
Hartman has displayed an extraordinary level of dedication to inclusion of individuals with special needs as valued members of society. Joining the many others who have saluted Gordon Hartman’s vision and action, HSFE is delighted to welcome him into our National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor with Special Recognition as a non-Hispanic who has shown extraordinary dedication by inspiring Hispanic youth to believe in themselves and to strive for success.