A young soldier received a new ear after she lost one during a car crash two years ago — after surgeons grew the organ beneath the skin on her forearm, US Army officials said.
Army Pvt. Shamika Burrage, a 21-year-old Mississippi native, lost her left ear when she was driving with her cousin to Fort Bliss, Texas, in 2016 and suddenly lost control of the car, causing it to crash.
“We were driving and my front tire blew, which sent the car off road and I hit the brake,” Burrage said Monday in a statement as officials announced the total ear reconstruction as a first-of-its kind procedure for the Army. “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.”
Burrage’s car had skidded several times before flipping, ejecting her from the vehicle. Thankfully, Burrage’s cousin, who was eight months pregnant, escaped serious injury, but Burrage nearly died in the wreck, suffering head injuries, compression fractures in her spine, a nasty case of road rash and the loss of her entire left ear.
Doctors at the hospital told her she was 30 minutes away from dying as a result of losing too much blood. She later began rehabbing and started seeing counselors due to her wounds and her appearance, ultimately prompting referrals to plastic surgeons.
“She was 19 and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her,” Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, said in a statement. “Why should she have to deal with having an artificial ear for the rest of her life?”
Burrage — a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division — initially was going to wear a prosthetic to avoid more scarring, but decided she wanted her ear back at all costs.
“I was just scared at first but wanted to see what he could do,” Burrage said.
To complete the procedure while minimizing scarring, Johnson used a procedure called “prelaminated forearm free flap” to harvest cartilage from her ribs to construct a new ear, which was then placed into Burrage’s forearm to allow for the formation of new blood vessels. As a result, she’ll have sensation in her ear once the rehabilitation process is wrapped up.
“[The ear] will have fresh arteries, fresh veins and even a fresh nerve, so she’ll be able to feel it,” Johnson said.
And although Burrage’s ear canal closed after the crash, she didn’t lose hearing in her left ear, meaning it’ll be fully functional after two more planned surgeries.
“It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back,” Burrage said.
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