NEW ORLEANS – After a devastating car wreck caused a man to lose his ear, doctors are creating a medical milestone by growing him another ear.
The special thing about this is, is that it’s growing in his arm.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, a mother panicked because she couldn't find her son for nearly four days.
He was unconscious in the UMC Trauma Center.
In December 2015, Kip Nelson, 31, struggled in physical therapy for independence again. He had no memory of the Kenner Police chase and crash the month before. With no seatbelt on, he went through the windshield, causing brain, neck, spinal cord, facial and shoulder injuries. His mother, Yolonda, is thankful Kip is no longer unconscious, and the feeding and breathing tubes are gone, so she can care for him at home.
"I think out of everything, that was my worst fear,” said Yolanda Nelson. “I'm not bringing him home and having him in some facility. I just couldn't get past that deal."
LSU Health Sciences Center doctors are doing something else to heal Kip's wounds. He is about to become one of the few people in the world to have the ear he lost in the wreck, created out of his own tissue.
"At first, I just thought it was going to be, they weren’t going to be able to put it back on because I didn’t know where they were going to get it from," said Kip.
LSU oral maxillofacial surgery chief resident, Dr. Shahrouz Zarrabi, is an accomplished sculptor, creating pieces for collectors and museums. He took a mold of Kip's healthy ear and then sculpted the framework for his new ear from his rib cartilage.
"Basically at end of procedure, the carved ear was absolutely identical of the other side," explained Dr. Zarrabi.
Then a pocket was made on Kip's inner forearm and the sculpted ear was put there for a few months, as tissue, skin and blood vessels grew around it. Then it was time for the LSU team to go to work. For a few hours in the UMC operating room months before, doctors had already fixed the terribly torn skin around Kip's ear canal and hairline. Now it was time to finish the reconstruction. Dr. Beomjune Kim performed the microvascular surgery, with sutures as fine as a human hair. He reconnected the arteries and veins in Kip's neck so the new ear has a blood supply for life.
"It just feels really good when I see that tissue comes back to life. It just makes such a rewarding moment," said Dr. Beomjune Kim, an LSUHSC oral maxillofacial surgeon.
After the transplant surgery, doctors know there is still more to do.
"It's a work in progress, you know. It's like a painting. You can sit back and say, 'Well that looks good,' or you can say, 'Well I need to do a little bit more,'" said Dr. John Neary.
As Chairman of the LSU oral maxillofacial surgery program, Dr. John Neary will be performing the fine tuning in the coming months, taking care of position, symmetry and size. He had just finished the first revision, leaving Kip's new ear temporarily very swollen. The lymph nodes have not regenerated yet to help drain the fluid out faster.
Kip is not concerned.
"I think it was awesome. At first, like I said, I didn’t think it could have been done, but they showed me different," said Kip.
The doctors agree that seeing Kip’s joy is thanks enough.
"And when I saw he's happy, that's the biggest kind of gift for me. All of us I think," said Dr. Zarrabi.
In the last year, Yolanda said the physical, occupational and speech therapy have also progressed.
"He's doing much better. He's able to really brush his teeth, do things like that, because at one point, he couldn't do anything," said Yolonda.
The surgical team plans to publish this accomplishment after the swelling and revisions are done. They have also created a nose for a patient. People with trauma, birth defects, burns and cancer, will not have to rely on prosthetics as doctors perfect this innovative therapy. Kip, with his limited movements, will not have to worry about attaching a prosthetic ear as he gets back into life as a father and friend.
"And the Lord told me, 'Leave it in Dr. Zarrabi hands.' And I said, 'Yes Lord, I will do that,'" said Kip.
When all of his surgeries are done, and Kip's ear is completely healed, WWL-TV plans to bring you an update.