Army doctors grow new ear on soldier’s forearm for transplant

Plastic surgeons used the soldier’s cartilage to build a new ear after she lost her old one in a car accident

Army Doctors Use Soldier's Forearm to Grow New Ear

When one soldier lost her left ear in a car accident, she wasn’t sure if it could be reconstructed. However, doctors were able to grow a new one in her arm in a “first of its kind” procedure in the Army.

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Plastic surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) in El Paso, Texas performed the surgery on Pvt. Shamika Burrage. By harvesting cartilage from her ribs, they were able to carve out a new ear. They then placed the body part in the skin of her forearm to allow it to fully grow.

The technique is unique, because it allows the ear to form new blood vessels. Burrage, who was able to recover her hearing, will also have feeling in her ear once rehabilitation is complete.

"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," Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at WBAMC, said in a statement. "As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get."

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Burrage was injured back in 2016 at age 19 while driving with her pregnant cousin from her Mississippi hometown to Texas. During the trip, her front tire blew out. The vehicle skidded 700 feet before flipping several times and ejecting Burrage. While her cousin had minor scrapes, she suffered head injuries, compression fractures in the spine, road rash and the total loss of her left ear.

“I was on the ground, I just looked up and (her cousin) was right there. Then I remember people walking up to us, asking if we were okay and then I blacked out," Burrage remembered.

She said she didn’t feel comfortable with the way she looked. So after exploring her options, she decided to forego a prosthetic ear for a real one. The process was “over a year in the making,” but Burrage, now 21, only has two more surgeries to go. Doctors will even be able to cover the scar tissue around her left jawline with the epidermis from her forearm, which will be attached to her ear.

“It's been a long process for everything,” she said, “but I'm back.”

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