- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Army Pfc Shamika Burrage lost an ear in a car accident in 2016, she never dreamed where a replacement appendage eventually would come from — her own forearm.

Army surgeons in Texas successfully grew an ear on Pfc Burrage’s forearm and then attached it to her head, the military service announced this week.

Called a total ear reconstruction, it was the first procedure of its kind to be performed in the Army. It required harvesting cartilage from the soldier’s own rib cage, carving out an ear and then placing it under the skin of the arm to develop new blood vessels.

Plastic surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, performed the surgery, saying they wanted to give the young private the opportunity to return to normalcy.

“She was 19 and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her,” said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Beaumont. “Why should she have to deal with having an artificial ear for the rest of her life?”

In 2016, Pfc. Burrage was driving to her base in Texas with her cousin when the front tire of their car blew out. The vehicle skidded nearly 700 feet and flipped several times.

“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,” Pfc. Burrage said.

The cousin, who was eight months pregnant, only suffered minor injuries. But Pfc. Burrage was thrown from the car and sustained trauma to her head, fractures to her spine, cuts and scrapes from the road, 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 OK, and then I blacked out,” she said.

During months of rehabilitation, Pfc. Burrage sought counseling to deal with the emotional stress from the loss of her ear and her new appearance.

That’s when doctors brought up the idea of using her own body to replace the ear she lost.

“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 [Col. Johnson] could do.”

Her hearing wasn’t damaged in the accident, but the ear canal had closed because of the severe trauma. Surgeons reopened the canal with the replacement ear.

A total ear reconstruction frequently is performed to correct a birth defect, an injury from trauma or a deformity from cancer, with thousands of cases documented around the world.

“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,” Col. Johnson said.

“As a young active-duty soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get.”

Photos of the procedure show an ear-shaped bulge beneath the skin of Pfc. Burrage’s forearm.

Two more surgeries are needed to complete the reconstruction. Doctors have used more skin from her forearm to cover up scar tissue around her left jaw line.

“It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back,” the soldier said.

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