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Army Surgeons Successfully Grow Ear On Soldier's Arm

May 10, 2018 07:01 AM EDT

Surgeons were able to successfully grow an ear on a soldier's arm after she lost an ear in a car accident.

The doctors at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, pulled off an amazing feat by harvesting cartilage from the patient's ribs, carving a new ear out of it, and then planting it under the skin of her forearm to develop.

It's the first surgery of its kind in the army.

A New Normal: Total Ear Reconstruction

According to a report from the United States Army, Private Shamika Burrage was driving when her front tire blew out in 2016. The vehicle careened off the road, and Burrage slammed on the brakes, but her efforts did not keep the car from flipping several times.

Her pregnant cousin, who was in the passenger seat, walked away with minor injuries, but the soldier was thrown off the car and suffered head injuries and the total loss of her left ear.

The traumatic accident proved to be a blow to Burrage's physical and mental health. After seeking out counseling to deal with her emotions on the accident and her new appearance, she was referred to a plastic surgeon.

Burrage, now 21, was initially hesitant when doctors presented her with the option of 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," Burrage says in a statement. "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."

In 2017, a similar procedure was done in China, but the ear was grown outside the skin, according to the Independent.

The Surgery

The doctors, led by chief plastic surgeon of the hospital Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, placed the cartilage in the forearm to allow the creation of new blood vessels. With this technique, Burrage will have feeling in her new ear.

"[The ear] will have fresh arteries fresh veins and even a fresh nerve so she'll be able to feel it," Johnson explains.

While her left ear canal has closed up, Johnson opened it up, and she hasn't lost her hearing capabilities.

The long transplant process is not finished, with two more surgeries left for the soldier, but Burrage now has a more optimistic outlook that the doctors share.

"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," Johnson says. "As a young active-duty Soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get."

Burrage is a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

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