When Shamika Burrage was involved in a devastating car accident in 2016, she was told she was lucky to survive the ordeal at all. In fact, had medical attention been delayed by just 30 minutes, Burrage probably would not have made it out alive. But although Burrage survived, her left ear did not.
It all started when then-19-year-old Burrage was heading back to Fort Bliss, where she was stationed at the time. As she was driving, Burrage’s car suffered a tire blowout, causing it to flip multiple times, and giving Burrage multiple injuries, including the loss of her ear.
Following the accident, the young soldier was fitted with a prosthetic ear – but the prosthesis did little to make Burrage feel whole again, and she sought a more permanent solution.
Dr. Bruce Chau is a plastic surgeon based in Berkeley, Michigan. He says it’s not surprising that Burrage was unsatisfied with the prosthesis.
“To give someone who is still in the prime of their life such an obvious and cumbersome prosthetic is not a great solution. It’s kind of a letdown,” he says.
Working with a team of plastic surgeons at nearby William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, Burrage underwent a new procedure known as a prelaminated forearm free flap.
“A prelaminated forearm free flap is a procedure that takes the cartilage from the patient’s rib and uses it to grow her a new ear under a flap in her forearm,” Chau says. “It sounds weird, but it really works.”
According to Burrage, learning about the procedure came as quite a shock initially, and she has admitted to being skeptical about it at first, but ultimately, she decided to go ahead with the surgery. Though she still has two more surgeries left before the transplant is complete, Burrage’s doctors are optimistic that it will ultimately be a success.
“It will take some time to heal and attach, but eventually the patient’s ear should blend so seamlessly to the rest the head nobody will ever know her ear was not her original ear,” Chau says. “But the best part is, because it’s already part of the patient’s own body, she will have nerves and feeling. She’ll have back that part of herself again.”