May 15, 2018

Army doctors 'grew' a new ear on this patient's forearm. (Yes, you read that right.)

Daily Briefing

    After a near-fatal car crash left Army Pvt. Shamika Burrage without a left ear, Army doctors successfully "grew" a new one on her forearm, Allyson Chiu reports for the Washington Post.

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    The accident

    About two years ago, Burrage was driving from Mississippi to Texas when the front tire of her car blew out. According to Chiu, the car skidded 700 feet and flipped multiple times—ejecting Burrage from the vehicle. Burrage suffered severe injuries, including compression fractures in her spine, head injuries, and the loss of her left ear. Doctors said Burrage's injuries were so severe that if medical assistance had been delayed by just 30 minutes, Burrage would have bled to death.

    After months of rehabilitation, Burrage was on the path to recovery, but she still felt uncomfortable with her appearance, as she still lacked an ear. Army doctors discussed plastic surgery options with Burrage, and while she initially considered getting a prosthetic ear, she decided to try a more radical approach.

    "I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring, but I wanted a real ear," Burrage said.

    How doctors 'grew' an ear in her arm

    To get Burrage a real ear, Army doctors used cartilage from her ribs to carve out tissue in the shape of a new ear. Doctors then placed the tissue under the skin of her right forearm to "grow" so that it could form new blood vessels within the cartilage.


    After the ear had fully grown, surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas surgically removed it and attached it to Burrage's head.

    The procedure is one of the most complicated ear constructions ever conducted in the United States, and it marked a first for Army doctors, the Army said in a release. Burrage already has recovered her hearing, and once rehabilitation is complete, she will have feeling in her ear.

    According to Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at William Beaumont, "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."

    This isn't the last procedure in Burrage's recovery: She also will also have epidermis from her forearm used to cover scar tissue around her left jawline, Chiu reports (Chiu, Washington Post, 5/10).

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