U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. James Sides had his hand blown off by an IED while bravely serving his country, but thanks to doctors and science the extraordinary serviceman has a brand new robotic prosthetic that he can actually control with his mind.
Sides’ life changed on July 15, 2012 in Afghanistan. While on his second tour of duty, the Marine suffered a traumatic and agonizing injury when a booby-trapped improvised explosive device detonated underneath him. The IED robbed Sides of the vision in his left eye as well as his right hand. “Rolled over to go to stand up and I saw that my forearm was broken and my hand was shredded to my wrist,” Sides said.
In 2014, Sides volunteered to be part of a revolutionary treatment that would hopefully provide him with a robotic prosthetic hand that would be controlled by his mind. “When they said…they could take the forearm and I would have unlimited prosthetic capabilities…I didn’t even think about it and told the doctors, ‘Yes,'” Sides said.
“We approached him with,’Hey there’s this new technology,’ and I don’t think I finished sentence before he said, ‘Hey let’s do it,'” said Dr. Paul Pasquina, the principle investigator and chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
The robotic prosthetic hand was created by the Alfred Mann Foundation (AMF). It differs from other robotic limbs because it utilizes the IMES System (implantable myoelectric sensor). The minimally invasive, intuitive, multi-channel control system for prosthetics is better than previous models because it is not affected by moisture. With older motorized prosthetics, sensors are placed on the surface of the remaining limb and pick up muscle activity in order to control movement. The problem is that when a person sweats, the liquid causes the sensors to go haywire. With the IMES system, the sensors are implanted inside the muscles of the recipient’s remaining limb. The implantable sensors (Which are as small as a penny) tap into a wider variety of muscles and thus improve the prosthetic’s control as well as the range of movement.
Sides underwent surgery and had eight electrodes implanted in the remaining muscles in his right arm. Two weeks later, he was able he was using his new hand. “The prosthetics over my residual limb, that copper coil creates an electromagnetic field and when my muscles fire the sensors pick that up,” Sides revealed.
“It really didn’t hit me until I had the prosthetic to take home and just wearing it day-to-day realizing what I could do with it that I couldn’t do with my old one,” Sides said. “I can’t do anything new, but it’s the fluidness and the quality…grabbing my wallet to get money for the ATM, grabbing and getting groceries, cooking, everything. It’s truly amazing.”
“When I go to shake someone’s hand it’s got sensors in there to stop when it feels resistance,” said Sides. “The joke is I got a Luke Skywalker hand,” said Sides.