By Sy Mukherjee
May 10, 2018

A service member named Shamika Burrage suffered a near-fatal car crash in which she lost an ear. But rather than using a partial transplant or prosthetic, doctors at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center grew one for the soldier under her forearm in what the Army says is a first-of-its-kind procedure.

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“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,” Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the center, said in a statement. “As a young active-duty soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get.”

Courtesy of Army

The complex, year-long “total ear construction” performed on Burrage involved taking cartilage from her ribs to design a new ear—which was then allowed to grow underneath her forearm skin. That process allowed new blood vessels to grow, which in turn will give rise to fresh veins, arteries, and even nerves once the soldier’s rehabilitation process is complete, according to her doctors. Her hearing in that ear will be preserved, too.

One striking, and thought provoking, statement from the Army’s release? “The whole field of plastic surgery has its roots in battlefield trauma,” according to Johnson. “Every major advance in plastic surgery has happened with war. This was trauma related.”

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