Sticking an Ear in Your Arm

Now you can hear you slapping someone 200 percent better!

Griffin Sonnemann-Creed, Columnist

Shamika Burrage is many things. A soldier. A survivor. And now, the recipient of a brand new type of reconstructive surgery. After a devastating car accident which left her spine broken in multiple areas and her ear completely severed from her head, Burrage was left with a choice: a prosthetic ear, or an experimental, grown ear. She chose the latter.

U.S. Army surgeons quickly went to work. First, they took cartilage from her ribcage, giving them material to work with. Using specialized tools, they carved out the shape of an ear from the cartilage. They then cut her forearm open, grafting the ear inside of her skin. Then, they waited. By placing the ear inside of her body, it was able to grow blood vessels and nerves, meaning Burrage would be able to feel her ear again. After several months of waiting, they reopened the cut, took the ear out of her arm, and grafted it to where her ear had originally been, using skin from her forearm to cover up the area around her jawline.

While this is a stunning example of new advances in biomedical technology, the idea of growing ears to replace severed ones is nothing new in medical fields. According to ABC News, in 2012 cancer survivor Sherry Walter received the same treatment. After surgery to remove her cancer also led to the loss of her ear and parts of her skull, Walter was approached by a team of doctors to test the new surgical procedure, as the damage to her skull meant that prosthetics would be difficult to attach to her head. The procedure went off without a hitch, and Walter now has a working ear.

The procedure has also begun gaining traction in China. In late 2016, a Chinese man identified only by the name Ji also had his ear severed through unknown circumstances. Doctor Guo Shuzhong, a reconstructive surgeon working at the “First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University,” successfully grew a near-identical ear inside Ji’s arm and transplanted it to his ear. It is unknown whether the procedure was developed through joint American-Chinese cooperation or if it simply spread to China.

Developments such as these are brand new in the field of reconstructive surgery. In mere decades, hospitals may begin seeing new and even more advanced forms of surgery similar to this; body parts such as noses and bones missing pieces may be able to be grown within the human body. Until more advanced forms of body component replacement can be achieved, surgical advances like these are a step in the right direction.