After a 2016 car accident left US Army Pvt. Shamika Burrage without her entire left ear, she thought she'd just replace it with a prosthetic. But the doctors at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, stepped up to give her a life-changing transplant instead — by growing a new ear right on her own arm.
Burrage had been on her way back to Fort Bliss, Texas, from a family visit in Mississippi when her car's tire blew out. The vehicle served off the road and she was ejected from it. Fortunately, she survived after being dangerously close to bleeding to death. But following months of rehabilitation, she felt so uncomfortable about her ear missing that she began to seek counseling. That's when the surgeons at the medical center got the idea to do the truly stunning total ear reconstruction.
Plastic surgeons at the center announced this week that they had indeed successfully transplanted a new ear onto Burrage's head, the first surgery of its kind for the Army. The medical feat involved harvesting cartilage from the soldier's ribs to carve a whole new ear out of it. That cartilage was then placed under the skin of Burrage's forearm to allow the ear to grow. This technique also allowed the ear to undergo neovascularization, which is formation of new blood vessels. That way, Burrage will regain feeling in her ear when the rehabilitation process is done.
"She was 19 and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her," said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, the hospital's chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery, in a press release. "Why should she have to deal with having an artificial ear for the rest of her life?"
Burrage still needs two more surgeries to complete the entire process — including reshaping to make sure it looks like her other ear. But she is feeling much more optimistic now that the ear is actually on her head, all thanks to Johnson and his team of talented surgeons.
"I was going to go with the prosthetic to avoid more scarring, but I wanted a real ear," Burrage said. "I was just scared at first, but wanted to see what he could do. It's been a long process for everything, but I'm back."
A spokesperson for the medical center told FirstForWomen.com that Burrage already has a higher boost in confidence following the major part of the surgery.
"She says she used to cover up her ear a lot," the spokesperson said. "But now, after the surgery, she proudly exposes it."
Now 21, Burrage is excited to finish up the rest of the reconstruction. It's no wonder, especially since she's had such a devoted and dedicated team of doctors helping her and cheering her on thus far.
The spokesperson added, "We want our patients primarily (and of course, the public) to know that here at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, we always strive to provide the very best high quality health care that we can, because our soldiers and veterans deserve it."