After a 2016 car crash left Army Pvt. Shamika Burrage without a left ear, doctors were able to perform a successful transplant, after first growing the new ear under the skin of her forearm.
In order to perform the total ear reconstruction, which has never been done before in the Army, doctors harvested cartilage from Burrage’s ribs, which was then carved into a new ear and placed under her forearm skin to grow, according to an Army statement.
Plastic surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso then successfully performed the transplant, and hope that within five years, Burrage’s new ear won’t be visibly different than her other one.
“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 the medical center, said in the statement. “As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get.”
Although Burrage’s rehabilitation process is not yet complete, Johnson added that her new ear will eventually “have fresh arteries fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she’ll be able to feel it.”
Burrage, 21, lost her ear after the front tire of her car blew out in 2016, while she and a cousin were returning to Texas after visiting with family in Mississippi.
“We were driving and my front tire blew, which sent the car off road and I hit the brake. I remember looking at my cousin who was in the passenger seat, I looked back at the road as I hit the brakes. I just remember the first flip and that was it,” Burrage said in the statement.
During the crash, Burrage’s vehicle skidded 700 feet and flipped over several times. Although the soldier, who was then 19, was ejected from the vehicle and suffered multiple injuries in addition to losing her left ear, her cousin, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was not seriously injured.
In the hospital, doctors told Burrage that if she had received medical treatment even 30 minutes later, she would have bled to death.
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Months into her rehabilitation process, Burrage, who was unhappy with her physical appearance after the accident, was encouraged to look into plastic surgery.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with the way I looked so the provider referred me to plastic surgery,” she explained in the statement, adding that while she was initially hesitant to go through with a full reconstruction, she “wanted a real ear” and not a prosthetic one.
Although the 21-year-old still has two more surgeries in her future before her reconstruction is complete, she feels optimistic about her future.
“It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back,” she said.
While this procedure is a first for the Army, in 2012 doctors at Johns Hopkins University Hospital performed a similar transplant, after a woman lost her ear during a battle with an aggressive form of skin cancer, according to CBS News.