PORTLAND, Ore. (Circa via KATU) — The stuff of science fiction is becoming fact. Earlier this year Johnny Matheny became the first person to receive a mind-controlled robotic arm.
Matheny became an amputee after losing his original arm to cancer.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005,” Matheny told KATU. “It was a tumor growing on the muscle just above my wrist on my left arm.”
Matheny spent years trying on different prosthetics designed to replace the human hand and arm. None of them ever came close to making him feel like himself again.
To win the battle, he had to lose part of his arm. But thanks to a trauma surgeon at OHSU, who attached a modular prosthetic limb, Matheny has a working arm.
“Basically, it’s just like your natural limb,” Matheny said. “You just think anything, your points and your pinches, turning your wrist and straightening the elbow – all of the same type of scenario.”
“What this is is a nerve reassignment surgery,” said Dr. Albert Chi, a trauma surgeon at OHSU. “Imagine the nerves that used to travel to the missing limb are rewired to residual muscles that are still there.”
The prosthetic Chi developed uses a titanium metal rod attached to what's left of the limb and moves based on nerve signals from the wearer’s muscles.
Chi is also lead clinical investigator in the first U.S. clinical trial of bionic arms for children produced on 3D printers. As a young man, he nearly lost his life in a motorcycle accident, and that experience has been foundational in his approach to his career.
“Lives can be shattered instantaneously in a war or accident, or over time with a devastating medical diagnosis,” Chi said. “I know what it is like to feel profound fear and loss, as well as the joy of being given a second chance. My goal in all I do is to help people deal with whatever adversity has been handed to them and live their best possible life, to not let any perceived disability be truly disabling.”