Okay, I admit it... that headline sounds fishy. But under the right conditions, a new ear really can be “grown.” It’s not from nothing, mind you, but it can be done. I’ll explain.
First, a Little Background The reason I’m writing about this today is because of a recent story in the news. The story comes to us from Michigan. A little girl there just got a new ear. She lost hers in an incident as an infant. (She was mauled by a raccoon). The incident was truly awful, but thankfully she survived, albeit with extensive damage to her face and head. Her name is Charlotte Ponce, and her story has a much happier ending! Now it’s more than a decade later. She’s undergone numerous surgeries to reshape her face and reduce the scar tissue she’s formed. She has had her cheeks and lips recreated through surgery.
Rebuilding her top lip was done by using some of her bottom lip tissue. The cheeks needed more fat, which was taken from her stomach area. She’s got a new nose already too. The nose required extra skin, which was taken from her arm and forehead. It also required more cartilage, which was taken from her ribs. In all, it took six surgeries to complete. The ear, however, was a lot tougher. Obviously it’s more difficult to create something from scratch, so to speak. The little girl’s ear was completely gone. This meant they needed to recreate all of it. So, how did they do it?
How It’s Done The surgeon created a new ear by first taking cartilage from the ribs. The cartilage was shaped into a form to resemble the shape of an ear. Then it had to be implanted below the skin to allow skin to grow around it. The plastic surgeon did the implantation on her forearm. Allowing the skin to grow around it took around three months. During that time, Charlotte had to be careful not to damage the fragile tissue. Her mother kept it bandaged up as a safeguard. Once the skin grew around it, the whole unit was eventually removed from her arm. It then got attached to her head. The whole procedure took around eight hours.
But in the end, she will be able to hear better and will have a brand new ear! (The arm got a skin graft too. That skin came from the leg or groin). The surgeon used this newly-formed ear and put a tube in the middle that functions as an ear canal. The surgery is complex because blood vessels have to be carefully connected to keep the new tissue viable. This is truly life-changing surgery. It means her new ear will now have almost the same form and function that her other ear does.
Functionally, there are also advantages, such as being able to wear glasses if necessary. What do you think? Does this sound a bit too much like science fiction? If you saw the online photos it certainly looked surreal. But it’s real, and shows us the real possibilities of plastic surgery.