Cartilage growing in a patient’s forearm as part of a total ear reconstruction performed at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. (Credit: U.S. Army)
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US Army Surgeons 'Grow' Ear In Soldier's Forearm

US Army plastic surgeons have successfully grown a new ear on a soldier who lost her left ear in a road traffic accident.

Cartilage growing in a patient’s forearm as part of a total ear reconstruction performed at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. (Credit: U.S. Army)

US Army plastic surgeons have successfully grown a new ear on a soldier who lost her left ear in a road traffic accident.

The total ear reconstruction is the first of its kind in the US Army and involved harvesting cartilage from Pvt Shamika Burrage’s ribs in order to carve out a new ear.

It was then placed under the skin of her forearm to allow the ear to grow.

Lt Col Owen Johnson III, Chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at William Beaumont Army Medical Center said:

"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.

"As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get."

Pvt. Shamika Burrage (21), 1st Armored Division, was returning to Fort Bliss, Texas, in 2016 when a tire blowout caused her to crash.

She said: "I was coming back from leave and we were around Odessa, Texas.

"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."

The vehicle flipped several times during its 700ft skid and ejected Pvt Burrage.

Pvt Burrage's cousin, who was eight months pregnant at the time, escaped with only minor injuries but Shamika suffered head injuries, compression fractures in the spine, road rash and the total loss of her left ear.

She said: "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.”

After months of rehabilitation, Pvt Burrage began to seek counselling due to the accident’s effect on her appearance.

"I didn't feel comfortable with the way I looked so the provider referred me to plastic surgery," she said.

"I didn't want to do [the reconstruction] but gave it some thought and came to the conclusion that it could be a good thing.

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

"I was just scared at first but wanted to see what he could do."

In order to avoid any more visible scarring, Johnson selected prelaminated forearm free flap, which involved placing the cartilage into the patient's forearm to allow for neovascularization - the formation of new blood vessels.

The technique should allow Shamika to have feeling in her ear.

Lt Col Owen Johnson said: "[The ear] will have fresh arteries fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she'll be able to feel it.”

"The whole field of plastic surgery has its roots in battlefield trauma. Every major advance in plastic surgery has happened with war. This was trauma related."

"She [Shamika] was 19 and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her, why should she have to deal with having an artificial ear for the rest of her life?"

Pvt Shamika Burrage said: "It's been a long process for everything, but I'm back.”