US Army Doctors 'Grows' Ear on Soldier's Arm

16 May, 2018

Army doctors in Texas have successfully transplanted a new left ear on a soldier. The ear was "grown" in the soldier's lower arm.

The procedure is the first of its kind for the U.S. Army. It involved doctors taking cartilage from the soldier's ribs. The cartilage was carved to look like an ear. It was then put under the skin of the soldier's arm to let the ear develop.

The soldier, Shamika Burrage, is 21 years old. In 2016, she was in a car accident.

Cartilage in the shape of an ear growing in a patient's forearm is shown as part of cutting-edge total ear reconstruction. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo )
Cartilage in the shape of an ear growing in a patient's forearm is shown as part of cutting-edge total ear reconstruction. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo )

She and a family member were driving from Mississippi to Fort Bliss, Texas, where Burrage was based. One of the car's tires burst. The vehicle slid for over 200 meters before rolling several times. Burrage was thrown from the car.

She suffered severe head and back injuries and lost her left ear. Doctors later told Burrage that if she had not received such quick medical attention, she would have bled to death.

After several months in the hospital, Burrage started seeing a counselor because of emotional issues caused by accident and its effects on her appearance. The counselor suggested that she go to a plastic surgeon, Burrage said.

Owen Johnson is chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. He explained to Burrage the process of a total ear reconstruction.

At first, Burrage resisted. She had mostly just considered getting an artificial ear, she said. The idea of total reconstruction frightened her, but she "wanted to see what he [Johnson] could do," she said in a story on the U.S. Army website.

By placing the new ear created by her cartilage into Burrage's arm, new blood vessels were able to form. This will let her have feeling in her new ear once the full process is complete.

Burrage did not lose her ability to hear. But her ear canal had closed up from the trauma. Johnson was able to open it again.

Burrage now has two more operations left. She says she is happy to be almost done with the reconstruction process.

She said, "It's been a long process for everything, but I'm back."

Susan Shand wrote this report. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

transplantv. to perform a medical operation in which an organ or other part that has been removed from the body of one person is put into the body of another person

carve –v. to make (something, such as a sculpture or design) by cutting off pieces of the material it is made of

reconstructionv. to recreate something to the way it was earlier

cartilagen. a strong but flexible material found in some parts of the body (such as the nose, the outer ear, and some joints)

rib – n. any one of the curved bones of the chest that connect to the spine

surgeon n. a doctor who performs operations that involve cutting into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts

counselor n. a person who provides advice as a job

artificial – adj. not natural or real : made, produced, or done to seem like something natural

vessels n. the small tubes that carries blood to different parts of a person or animal's body

canal – n. a tube or passageway in the body

trauma – n. a serious injury to a person's body