November 25, 2021
A man who lost the lower part of his left arm to cancer became the first person to take home the world's most advanced Modular Prosthetic Limb designed by the John Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory.
Living with physical or emotional disabilities can be daunting. However, thanks to technological advancements and breakthroughs in modern science, people now have the option to use prosthetic limbs.
While advanced prosthetics allow for better functionality and movement, the overall results can vary for how efficiently a person can control these devices.
LIVING AS AN AMPUTEE
66-year-old Johnny Matheny, a bread sales and delivery man in Florida, lost his left arm to cancer in 2007. He's been living as an amputee since 2008. After his arm was amputated, he had to leave his job and change his lifestyle. Matheny shared:
“After the amputation, they [the doctors] deemed me cancer-free. At that time, I decided to pay my life forward (sic)."
The Florida man said he opted for a surgery called TMR or "Targeted Muscle Reinnervation." Matheny shared that although the nerve endings controlling his lower arm were cut off, they were still present and could be reused.
PROSTHETIC LIMB CONTROLLED BY ARMBAND
The nerve endings were then taken and re-implanted in muscles that were left in the stump. Talking about the prototype arm, Matheny further explained:
"They did five different re-enervations in my stump, and this allows me to work my hand, wrist and elbow."
Finally, a wearable Myo armband from Thalmic Labs replaced the single-use sticky electrical sensors attached to Matheny's arm stump. The wearable band was able to communicate with the prosthetic limb through Bluetooth.
LIFE WITH MPL
The Florida amputee said that the prosthetic limb controlled by Thalmic Labs was more comfortable than other prosthetics. Because his sons were in the army, the U.S. military funded his prototype arm's research and development costs.
Since then, Matheny has been working to help improve life not just for himself but also for other prosthetic users. This is why he teamed up with John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to design more advanced prosthetics.
He also worked with researchers such as Luke Osborn to test the prosthetics' functionality. In 2018, Matheny became the first person to take home the world's most advanced Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) designed by the same institute.
LEARNING TO PLAY THE PIANO
Matheny used MPL to perform everyday activities. The findings and observations from his trial with the advanced prosthetic limb were published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. Bobby Arminger, the project manager for the study, revealed:
"He [Matheny] was able to customize the arm and learn to do the things he wanted—like playing the piano."
With time, Matheny began using the prosthetic limb to perform complex tasks, like playing the piano, as he could move individual fingers to strike the keys. Good Morning America shared a moving video of him handling the musical instrument like a pro.
Matheny, who never knew how to play the piano before, said it took him a year to learn his dad's favorite song and play it without mistakes. He can now play "Amazing Grace" excellently and wishes to contribute to designing better prosthetics.
Moreover, researcher Osborn shared that Matheny's experience with MPL is a breakthrough that would help them improve future technology and make lives easier for amputees.
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