UK & World News

  • 11 December 2013, 20:20

Soldier's Bionic Arm Makes Medical History

A soldier severely injured in Afghanistan has made medical history by becoming the first person in the UK to control a bionic arm through mind control.

Corporal Andrew Garthwaite, 26, from South Tyneside, was fitted with the prosthetic limb after undergoing pioneering surgery in Austria and months of physiotherapy at a military rehabilitation centre in Surrey.

He says his friends now call him the The Six Million Dollar Man - a reference to the iconic American TV series from the 1970s.

"People call me Steve Austin from the bionic man as a joke. The quality of my life is better though, since it was fitted. Everything is much faster. I'm not using sort of my legs and teeth to open things I can be sort of living as natural as I can be."

Cpl Garthwaite was badly injured in Helmand Province in 2010 when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by the Taliban.

The mind movement of the arm works thanks to a revolutionary surgical technique called Targeted Muscle Reinnervation.

The nerves serving Cpl Garthwaite's amputated arm were redirected to his chest.

Those nerves then formed new connections in his pectoral muscle and when the soldier imagines moving his missing limb it causes a contraction.

The signals in the nerves are then picked up by electrodes placed against his skin which in turn then intuitively move his new prosthetic limb.

Doctor Tim Jones, a Consultant of Rehabilitation, says the technique also means less pain.

"It is a fantastic new development. It makes a massive difference to his ability to do things and there are two other advantages to this.

"Firstly, he had a lot of phantom pain and this technique means the amount of phantom pain has been dramatically reduced. His quality of life is far better."

Defence Minister Anna Soubry says the procedure will also be made available to civilians in the near future.

"It's not just people who have been injured during battle. It's the fact this is also working and is meshed in with the NHS. So, of course, there will be other people who have lost an arm in an accident who may also be able to benefit from this."

Cpl Garthwaite can now carry out everyday tasks like gardening, cooking or making coffee.

It has taken months of occupational therapy to achieve that level of control but the soldier says it has been well worth it to be able to live a normal life once again.

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