U.S. ARMYA soldier who lost an ear in an accident has grown a replacement under the skin of her forearm, according to a statement released by the US Army earlier this week (May 7). Shamika Burrage’s own cartilage was used by plastic surgeons to reconstruct the ear, which has now been successfully transplanted to her head.
At the end of the rehabilitation process, the ear “will have fresh arteries, fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she’ll be able to feel it,” Owen Johnson, the chief plastic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, says in the statement. Though not the first time such a procedure has been carried out—a woman who lost an ear to cancer underwent similar treatment in 2012—this type of total ear reconstruction remains one of the most complicated ear constructions performed in the U.S.
Burrage sustained the injury in a car crash in 2016. “We were driving and my front tire blew, which sent the car off the road and I hit the brake,” she says in the statement. “I just remember the first flip and that was it.” Burrage suffered head and spine injuries, and the loss of her left ear.
To perform the reconstruction, Army doctors harvested cartilage from Burrage’s rib cage, and carved the tissue into shape. Then, they inserted the cartilage into Burrage’s forearm and left it to stretch out and grow its own skin until it could be removed and attached to her head. “The whole goal is by the time she’s done with all this, it looks good, it’s sensate, and in five years if somebody doesn’t know her they won’t notice,” says Johnson.
Now that the ear has been transplanted, Burrage will undergo further surgery to cover scar tissue on her head, according to the statement. Fortunately, “I didn’t lose any hearing and (Johnson) opened the [ear] canal back up,” Burrage says in the statement. “It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back.”