Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 21, 2024

Ear successfully regrown on forearm

By SAMHITA ILANGO | October 4, 2012

Forty-two year old Sherrie Walter from Bel Air, Md. has undergone six invasive surgeries over the last 20 months. Walter’s plight began in early 2008 when she had a scab that did not recover properly. She was diagnosed with aggressive basal cell carcinoma.

The retail sales manager and mother of two was in shock. She would have never classified herself as the typical victim. She didn’t spent days basking on sunny beaches, and nor did she have any family history of skin cancer.

After the initial diagnosis, there were many precautionary measures to take. In addition to regular skin biopsies, Walter underwent several session of intense radiation therapy. The goal was to prevent the cancer from growing or spreading.

Then, in October 2010, Walter found blood inside her ear. Her cancer had unpredictably returned. In December, Walter had her left ear surgically removed by surgeons at Hopkins Hospital. In addition, the doctors removed other tissue in the head, neck, gland, lymph and skull where the cancer tumors had spread.

After the surgery, Hopkins doctors told Walter that reconstructive surgery was a possibility and an option for her — a rare opportunity considering her circumstances.

Lead surgeon Patrick Byrne found Walter’s reconstructive surgery options to be limited. The previous surgery had removed skull bone and structure, which were needed to sustain traditional options like a plastic prosthetic ear. Furthermore, Walter lacked the skin that was necessary.

Byrne thought creatively. He decided to use the skin from her forearm in order to make the reconstructive surgery a success. Byrne and his team removed cartilage from Walter’s ribs and formed it to resemble the shape of an ear. Then, they implanted the pseudo-ear under her forearm skin.

The reconstructed ear was implanted under her forearm skin for four months, developing and growing in response to the surrounding blood vessels. Finally, Byrne and his team extracted the ear and implanted it into Walter’s head, attaching it to blood vessels in the skull.

Monitoring the aftermath of the surgery carefully, Byrne has been able to adjust the left ear implantation and has established that blood is flowing properly. He has also been able to make aesthetic adjustments to the ear, focusing on contouring and molding it to match Walter’s right side ear.

Lastly, Walter had permanent hearing aids embedded, which restored hearing in her left ear. Only a few minor surgeries remain to be done.

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