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Army surgeon performs transplant using ear grown on soldier’s forearm: report

The Army's logo (Credit: MGN.).

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) – A first of its kind surgery involving the total reconstruction of the patient’s ear has been performed in the Army, according to the military branch’s website.

The website reported Monday that plastic surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas have successfully transplanted a new ear to a soldier missing one.

Pvt. Shamika Burrage underwent the procedure after losing her left ear in a single-vehicle accident in 2016.

The reconstruction involved taking cartilage from Burrage’s ribs to carve a new ear, which was then placed under the skin of her forearm to allow it to grow.

“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,” said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, WBAMC.

“As a young active-duty soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get,” he added of Burrage, a Clarksdale, Mississippi native.

“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.”

Burrage is a supply clerk with the Army’s 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

The private was traveling to Fort Bliss, Texas in 2016 after visiting family when a tire blowout caused her vehicle to repeatedly flip and eject her.

Burrage suffered head injuries, compression fractures in her spine and road rash in addition to completely losing her left ear.

“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,” said Burrage, who was 19 during the accident.

“I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring but I wanted a real ear,” added Burrage, who is now 21.

Johnson ultimately selected the prelaminated forearm free flap technique to help Burrage avoid more visible scarring.

The procedure involves placing the patient’s cartilage into their forearm to allow for neovascularization, or the creation of new blood vessels.

Neovascularization allows patients like Burrage to recover feeling in their ear once the rehabilitation process finishes.

Epidermis from the forearm grown while attached to the earn, meanwhile, will eventually cover up scar tissue in the area immediately surrounding Burrage’s left jawline.

“[The ear] will have fresh arteries, fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she’ll be able to feel it,” Johnson said.

Burrage has two more surgeries left related to her accident, and she says she remains excited to finish her reconstruction.

“I was just scared at first but wanted to see what [Johnson] could do,” she said. “It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back.”

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