When a tire blew out on Pvt. Shamika Burrage’s car two years ago, it skidded 700 feet and flipped several times before she was thrown from the vehicle.
“I remember people walking up to us, asking if we were okay and then I blacked out,” said Burrage in an Army statement on Monday. Then she woke in a hospital to find that her injuries included having lost her left ear.
But now the 21-year-old has a new ear after a total ear reconstruction that the Army says is the first of its kind for the service.
Doctors harvested cartilage from her ribs and carved an ear shape out of the cartilage. The cartilage was placed under the skin of her forearm to allow the ear to “grow.” Then the ear was attached to her head at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso.
“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,” said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery for the medical center, in the Army statement.
In 2012, a similar surgery was performed at The Johns Hopkins Hospital on a woman who lost an ear to skin cancer, according to a Baltimore Sun story that called it “the most complicated ear reconstruction in North America.” In that case, a woman named Sherrie Walter spent four months with an ear implanted in her forearm so skin could grow around it.
For Burrage, the ear reconstruction was part of a long road in an ongoing recovery. She also suffered head injuries, spinal compression fractures and road rash from the accident. Doctors told her she would have bled to death if she had not received medical help for 30 more minutes. She initially wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with the reconstruction, which was over a year in the making.
“I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring but I wanted a real ear,” Burrage said. “I was just scared at first but wanted to see what he could do.”
Epidermis from Burrage’s forearm will be used to cover scar tissue in the area around her left jawline, the statement said. Burrage, a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, still has two surgeries left to go, but she says she’s optimistic.
“It’s been a long process for everything, but I’m back,” said Burrage.
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