Technology is the source of a lot of anxiety in our culture right now. Yesterday, the White House hosted a meeting with major tech companies to discuss Artificial Intelligence. That's good. I've been saying for a long time that we have to have these conversations about technology. The changes are coming our way whether we like it or not, so we need to try to be informed and prepared.
There are definitely things on the horizon to be concerned about and guard against. But it's also good to be reminded that the innovations aren't all bad. There is mind-boggling medical technology, for example, crazy stuff straight out of science fiction, that is changing lives.
Two years ago, then 19-year-old Army Private Shamika Burrage was driving back to her base in Fort Bliss Texas after visiting family in Mississippi. One of her front tires blew and she lost control of her car, which flipped several times and ejected her. She suffered head injuries, compression fractures in her spine, and completely lost her left ear.
Burrage went through months of surgeries and rehabilitation. She grew depressed about her appearance. She considered going with a prosthetic ear to avoid the scarring of further surgery. Then, her Army doctors told her about another option she couldn't believe. They said they could grow her another ear – a
real one – and reattach it. But there was a catch. The procedure is called "prelaminated forearm free flap." Basically, they would grow her new ear inside her left forearm.
Her new ear will have arteries, veins, and even a nerve so that she'll be able to feel it.
How did they do it? They took cartilage from her ribs and used it to shape a new ear. Then they placed the ear under the skin of her forearm so that it could "grow" and form new blood vessels. Her new ear will have arteries, veins, and even a nerve so that she'll be able to feel it. Oh, and the surgeons were also able to reopen her left ear canal, so she won't lose any hearing.
Lieutenant Colonel Owen Johnson, the chief Army surgeon who reconstructed Burrage's ear says, " in five years if somebody doesn't know her they won't notice [her ear]."
The total ear reconstruction is the first of its kind in the Army. Burrage has already had the ear reattached and has just two more follow-up surgeries to go.
"It's been a long process for everything," she says, "but I'm back."