First-of-its kind ear procedure in military performed in El Paso
EL PASO, Texas —
It’s a medical procedure for the history books:
The first of its kind in the military and it was done at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
"My front right tire blew and then we went off road, back on road, then we skidded about 700 feet, before we actually flipped,” said Pfc. Shamika Burrage. “After that, I don’t remember after the first flip, I just - I flew out. I just remember waking up on the ground."
In 2016, Burrage was on her way back to Fort Bliss from her hometown in Mississippi, when she and her pregnant cousin crashed.
Burrage said her cousin and her unborn child only suffered minor injuries, while the active duty soldier, 19 years old at the time, was facing the worst.
"They wanted me to lay down, but I wasn't feeling laying down, because I felt like I was going to die,” she said.
She spent several months in the hospital recovering from multiple injuries.
"Road rash, TBI, skull fractures, loss of left ear, compression fractures to the back,” she said.
Faced with the reality of losing her ear, she met Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief plastic surgeon at WBAMC.
Johnson said the soldier had a lot of scar tissue closing off her ear canal.
"I was worried if we did nothing, that she would completely lose hearing on that side,” he said.
So he came up with an idea to take cartilage from Burrage’s ribs and make an ear.
It’s something that had never been done before in the military, and Johnson said he can only recall one other case in the U.S.
"I sat there in the operating room, with carving tools and basically sculpt out a new ear from this cartilage,” he said.
The sculpted ear was then placed on Burrage’s forearm.
"I was, like, weirded out about it,” she said. "But then, I got used to it being there, but a majority of the time I had it covered."
Johnson said her arm was the best location, so they could attach the arteries from her arm to the ear.
"The type and quality and texture of the skin is very well-suited for resurfacing that part of the face and neck,” he said.
The ear stayed on her arm for a year.
In February, Johnson performed a lengthy surgery to place the ear where it belongs.
"I don't regret it,” Burrage said.
She said having her mother and a great support system really helped her recover.
Now, with a couple of more surgeries in her future, she