NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The medical community is celebrating an amazing breakthrough in prosthetic limbs that could make a huge difference for amputees, including many veterans.
It’s a way to restore sensation as well as movement. While prosthetics have gotten much better in movement, bringing back the sensation of touch has proved a much tougher problem.
Claudia Mitchell’s is an amputee whose life changed permanently in 2004. She was in a motorcycle accident and lost her arm.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that the prosthetics on the market weren’t what she needed.
“It became a mission almost to be able to give back and to participate in things that were going to bring about change and bring about better prosthetics,” she said.
For more than a decade, Claudia has been part of a research trial led by Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Paul Marasco to create a cutting edge prosthetic that allows her to feel sensation as if it’s coming from her missing hand.
“There’s losses on many levels when you lose a hand,” Dr. Marasco said. “Not only do you lose the movement and the ability to grab things but then you lose the ability to feel and to engage with people.”
Claudia was one of the first to have sensory nerves that once led to her arm and hand rewired to muscles in her chest.
“They essentially just unplugged one phone jack and put in another one in here, so now here on my chest, I feel my hand,” she said.
Her brain then interprets the arm like its her own. When she thinks about moving her hand, the muscles on her chest twitch and send signals to control it. When she holds or touches something, she instantly feels it when the fingertip sensors in her prosthetic is activated.
“It’s just really simple small things that don’t sound like a big deal, really are,” she said. “When I put on my mascara, and you go to close the lid, you know when you’re done closing the lid because you can feel the tube start to turn and then you’re finished, I didn’t know that before, well now I can feel that.”
Her goal was initially to simply get a better arm, but along the way her participation in the research project became about helping her injured Marine Corps brothers and sisters.
Meanwhile, researchers will continue to develop evermore sophisticated ways to regenerate that all-important sense of touch.