It seems like the plots from science fiction are increasingly becoming part of our reality – something that Sherrie Walters knows all too well. Walters’ doctors have been able to grow an ear on her arm and then attach it to the side of her face, giving her a functioning ear again.
In 2008, Sherrie Walters, now 42 years old, discovered that she had rapidly spreading basal cell cancer in her ear. The disease is a type of skin cancer. The doctors pursued an aggressive treatment to combat the destructive disease, removing her ear, part of her skull, and her left ear canal. Though Walters was left without an ear, she was still able to hear with the help of a special hearing aid.
A few months ago, doctors from the renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore decided to try a new procedure on Walters. Using cartilage from her rib, the doctors stitched a new ear to match her right one. Then their creation was implanted under the skin of her forearm, where the ear grew for months.
“We started making jokes just to try to get used to it and I was like, ‘Can you hear me? Can you hear me?’” Derrick Walters, her husband, said.
Doctors attached the ear and blood vessels surgically. Another surgery, conducted this week, gave the ear shape and detail. Dr. Patrick Byrne, a revered plastic and reconstructive surgeon, says that after the swelling goes down and the ear heals, Walters will have an ear that both looks and functions normally. Walters has two more minor surgeries left, but if everything goes well, Walters’ newly constructed ear could last for decades.
And Sherrie Walters considers herself lucky and hopes other people can learn from her experiences. “It’s a cliché,” she said, “but use the sunscreen and if you are not sure about something, get it checked because that’s what I didn’t do.”