Medical Miracle - Ear Grown On An Arm
September 29, 2012

Doctors Grow Replacement Ear On Woman’s Arm

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

It might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but it's actually a real-life medical miracle: doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital managed to grow a replacement ear for a cancer patient on her own arm.

The patient, Sherrie Walters, developed basal cell carcinoma in 2008 and had to have a portion of her left ear, skull, and ear canal removed, Gizmodo writer Kyle Wagner explained in an article Thursday. Now, four years later, she has become the first person to receive a replacement ear developed from her own rib cartilage.

The original procedure had left the now 42-year-old Walters "disfigured and deaf on one side," according to James Nye of the Daily Mail, but an experimental new procedure developed at the Baltimore-based clinic, is helping to remedy that.

A team of surgeons, led by Dr. Patrick Byrne, an associate professor in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, used the rib cartilage to create a new ear that matched Walters' right one. The ear was then implanted under the skin of her left forearm in November 2011, where it grew for a total of four months before being transplanted onto her head approximately six months ago.

On Tuesday, Dr. Byrne's team added shape and fine detail to the ear, CBS Baltimore reported. The reconstructive surgeon cut the skin below the ear, then pulled it back so that it would resemble a traditional earlobe. Her recovery still has a ways to go, but according to Byrne, it's "just a matter of time" until she has "a normal looking ear."

Walters' story began four years ago, when she had doctors check out a scab on the ear because it would not heal. She was prescribed antibiotics, according to Nye, but when they did not help, Walters ultimately went to a dermatologist who informed her that she had cancer. After having several layers of skin removed, she later learned that the cancer had spread to the left ear canal, which required a 16-hour surgery.

Walters and Dr. Byrne had briefly considered using a prosthetic ear, but the nature of her injuries meant that she would have had to use glue and tape to secure it each day. Ultimately, they opted for the experimental procedure that Dr. Byrne had come up with several years beforehand.

"It seemed a little strange, but I was willing to try it," Walters told the Daily Mail, adding that there are times where she feels "like an experiment" because of the untested nature of the operation. "It just didn´t seem like anything we´d ever heard of so to see the progression and to see how everything has come out has been just great to kind of come to fruition," she added.