William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas successfully transplanted a new ear on a Soldier who lost her left ear in an accident with a single vehicle. Plastic surgeons were able to perform the total ear reconstruction successfully making it the first of its kind in the Army. The process involved harvesting cartilage from the Soldier's ribs to carve a new ear out of which was then placed under the skin of the forearm so that it could grow.
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Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, WBAMC said, "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. As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get." It is great to see our military servicemembers benefit from cutting-edge medical technology and the revolutionary procedure which was over a year in the making.
The accident that took the Soldier's ear happened in 2016 while she was returning to Fort Bliss, Texas after visiting family in Mississippi. The vehicle she was driving suffered a tire blowout and from then on her life would be changed. Pvt. Shamika Burrage, a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division said, "I was coming back from leave and we were around Odessa, Texas. We were driving and my front tire blew, which sent the car off road and I hit the brake. 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."
The vehicle slid 700 feet before flipping over several times and ejecting Burrage who suffered head injuries, compression fractures in the spine, road rash and the total loss of her left ear. "I was on the ground, I just looked up and (her cousin) was right there. Then I remember people walking up to us, asking if we were okay and then I blacked out," she said. The next time she woke up she was in a hospital and doctors were telling her if she had not received medical attention within 30 minutes she would have bled to death. "I didn't feel comfortable with the way I looked so the provider referred me to plastic surgery," she said.
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When the surgeon explained her options for reconstruction, Burrage was initially shocked and resistant to the idea of a total ear reconstruction. "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. I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring but I wanted a real ear. I was just scared at first but wanted to see what he could do."
Burrage's surgeon Dr. Johnson said, "She was 19 and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her. Why should she have to deal with having an artificial ear for the rest of her life?" The total ear reconstruction involved implanting the reconstructed ear in her forearm so that it could grow blood vessels. When it was ready, the new ear was harvested from her arm and implanted. "(The ear) will have fresh arteries fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she'll be able to feel it," Dr. Johnson said.
"I didn't lose any hearing and (Johnson) opened the canal back up," Burrage said. Her ear canal had closed due to the severity of the trauma. "The whole field of plastic surgery has its roots in battlefield trauma," Dr. Johnson. "Every major advance in plastic surgery has happened with war. This was trauma related." Burrage has only two surgeries left before the reconstruction will be complete. "It's been a long process for everything, but I'm back," Burrage said.
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