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Army Surgeons Replace Soldier's Lost Ear With Grown One: What Is Ear Reconstruction Surgery?

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Army doctors conduct a total ear reconstruction surgery for the first time to help a soldier who lost her entire left ear in an accident. What is ear reconstruction surgery?

Soldier's Car Accident

In 2016, Pvt. Shamika Burrage was returning to Fort Bliss in Texas after a leave when she got into a serious car accident with her eight months pregnant cousin. Evidently, the front tire of the vehicle she was driving blew up, sending the car to skid for 700 feet and flip several times.

Amazingly, her cousin only got minor injuries, but Pvt. Burrage suffered head injuries, spine fractures, road rash, and a complete loss of her left ear. Almost two years after her accident, plastic surgeons at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center have given the now 21-year-old a new ear that was grown from her own cartilage and tissue.

Private Burrage, who underwent counseling to help her deal with the trauma and the accident's effects on her appearance, is now more optimistic even if she still has two surgeries left.

Ear Reconstruction Surgery

Ear reconstruction is a type of plastic surgery that is conducted to reconstruct or rebuild partial or total ear defects as a result of cancer, congenital hypoplasia, or trauma. People with prominent ears may also have such surgeries.

There are various methods of treating such ear defects. An otoplasty may be the option for people with prominent or misshapen ears, whether it is a result of a birth defect or traumatic injury. In this procedure, the ears are surgically altered to have the shape, position, or size changed. This procedure can be done at any age, but some have had the procedure done as early as the age of three.

In cases when a patient may need total ear reconstruction, they may opt to have artificial ears created and implanted. However, in most cases, patients are implanted with ears that are created from their own cartilage and tissue.

In the case of Private Burrage, who needed a total ear reconstruction, cartilage from her rib cage was placed into her forearm to allow the formation of fresh blood vessels so that she can have feeling in her ear once rehabilitation is done. Further, doctors also opened up her ear canal, as it had closed as a result of the trauma.

Plastic Surgery Roots In War

Though plastic surgery procedures are often associated with cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery actually differs from cosmetic surgery in that its focus is on the reconstruction of body defects whereas cosmetic procedures are focused on enhancing a person's appearance.

According to Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, the chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at WBAMC, plastic surgery actually has its deep roots in war.

"The whole field of plastic surgery has its roots in battlefield trauma. Every major advance in plastic surgery has happened with war. This was trauma related," said Lt. Col. Johnson.

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