Doctors grow ear transplant inside soldier's arm

Doctors harvested cartilage from a woman's body to grow a new ear in her forearm.      US Army

A young soldier who lost her entire left ear in a vehicle crash when she was 19 will soon get a new one thanks to revolutionary new reconstructive surgery.

The accident took place in 2016 when Burrage was driving back from leave with her cousin when a front tire blew out.

The surgery is hailed as "the first of its kind".

Plastic surgeons carved a new ear out of cartilage taken from the Burrage's ribs, which they then placed under the skin of her forearm to allow the ear to grow.

"As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get", said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the medical centre.

Others were less excited about the news.

After several months of rehabilitation, Burrage informed doctors that she was uncomfortable about how her injuries affected her appearance, so she was referred to plastic surgeons at WBAMC, who offered her the option of total ear reconstruction. Described as the first time such a process has been carried out by the US Army, it involved cultivating a completely new ear from cartilage taken from the soldier's ribs.

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Pvt. Shamika Burrage, who hails from MS, is a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

Two years later, the 21-year old Texas resident became the first recipient among the armed forces of a unique ear transplant, which involved regrowing her ear under the skin of her forearm. Burrage was told by doctors that if she had gone 30 more minutes without receiving medical attention, she would have bled to death.

"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", she said. Although Burrage was wary and sceptical at first, she eventually relented and chose to give it a shot, saying, "I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring but I wanted a real ear".

"I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring but I wanted a real ear", Burrage said.

The team made a decision to use a piece of her own body to create a new ear for her. She says in about five years, people won't even be able to notice her ear. Doctors there successfully stitched together a new ear for Sherrie Walters, grew it under the skin of her forearm, and later surgically attached the ear and its blood vessels.

After a series of surgeries, with two more to go, Burrage's hearing has been restored and the procedure has been deemed a success. "(The ear) will have fresh arteries fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she'll be able to feel it", Johnson said in the press release.

There are two more surgeries left to complete, though the team - and their patient - are reportedly confident that everything is going to plan.

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