Two years ago, a 19-year-old Army private lost her left ear in a car accident.
Today, she has a new ear that was grown on her arm and successfully transplanted onto her head.
Pvt. Shamika Burrage underwent the Army’s first-of-its-kind total ear reconstruction at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas, according to a news release.
Burrage, a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, was driving to Fort Bliss in 2016 after visiting family in Mississippi when her front tire blew out, causing the car to swerve off the road, skidding 700 feet before flipping multiple times.
Burrage was ejected from the car and suffered head injuries, compression fractures in her spine, road rash and the total loss of her left ear, the release said.
After several months of rehabilitation, Burrage sought counseling to deal with the emotional and physical trauma that resulted from the accident.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with the way I looked so the provider referred me to plastic surgery,” Burrage said in the release.
When doctors explained her options for reconstruction, Burrage was hesitant to commit to the total ear reconstruction.
“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,” she said. “I was just scared at first but wanted to see what he could do.”
The reconstruction involved harvesting cartilage from Burrage’s ribs to carve a new ear out of it, which was then placed under the skin of her forearm to allow the ear to grow.
By letting the ear grow under her arm, Burrage will be able to have feeling in her ear once the rehab process is done, the release said.
”(The ear) will have fresh arteries, fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she’ll be able to feel it,” Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the medical center, said in the release.
Fortunately, Johnson didn’t lose any hearing, and was able to open her ear canal back up after it had closed due to the trauma.
“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,” Johnson said. “As a young active-duty soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get.”
Burrage has two remaining surgeries to finalize the reconstruction.
“It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back,” she said.