Private First Class Shamika Burrage is getting out of the Army. The 21-year-old is about to start nursing school.
But, in order to tell that story, we need to tell you this one.
“My front tire blew,” Burrage said. “We skidded about 700 feet before we actually flipped.”
June 16, 2016 is a day she’ll always remember as the day her life changed. In the hospital, she learned she had compression fractures in her spine, road rash and was missing her left ear.
“When I first met her, she was a complete wreck,” Plastic Surgeon Dr. Owen Johnson III said. He and team of other doctors at William Beaumont Army Medical Center would eventually perform three surgeries on Burrage.
“I did not want to do it in the beginning,” she said.
It took her two months to change her mind.
The surgery — using a piece of Burrage’s own body to create a new ear, transplanting it into her forearm, and later transplanting it onto her head — was a first for the Army.
“At first, I was just like you’re trying to do what? To my arm? To where? For what?” she explained.
Using a template of her other ear, Johnson would use cartilage from her rib, to create the new one. The ear would be transplanted into her forearm.
“I elevated a pocket of skin, preserving all of the things that were important, and placed the rib cartilage into the skin to let it heal,” Johnson said.
He chose the arm because of the blood supply.
“We have multiple arteries that feed blood to our fingers, so the tissue is expendable. The success rate is very good for this type of surgery when you take it from the forearm.”
The ear stayed on Burrage’s right forearm for about a year. At the end of February, she had her third surgery. During that surgery, Johnson and his team transplanted the ear onto the head.
“Now I freely show everything. I’m just like, take a picture if you want to,” Burrage said laughing.
But there’s one thing she didn’t want the surgical team to fix: her face scar. She called it her favorite one and told her surgeon to leave that one alone. She’s refusing to let it define her moving forward.
“I didn’t let something as big as this bring me down to the point where I called it quits. I just kept going.”
Her last day in the Army is now just a week away. Her new mission, to help others, like those that once helped her.