An Army private who lost an ear in a car accident now has a new one, fashioned from her own rib cartilage. Surgeons this week announced that the new ear has been successfully reattached to Pvt. Shamika Burrage of Mississippi, according to an Army news release. What's more, the 21-year-old can hear with it. After crafting the ear out of Burrage's cartilage, surgeons at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, placed it under the skin of her forearm so it could "grow" and develop blood vessels in a process known as neovascularization. The operation is the first of its kind for the Army, though the Washington Post notes that similar procedures have been undertaken elsewhere at least twice.
"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, the chief surgeon. Burrage lost the ear two years ago when the car she was in blew a tire and flipped multiple times. "I was going to go with the prosthetic, to avoid more scarring, but I wanted a real ear," says the private, who works as an Army supply clerk. She still has two more plastic surgery operations left. "It's been a long process for everything, but I'm back," she says. (In Japan, researchers grew an ear on the back of a rat.)