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YOUR HEALTH: A truly amazing bionic arm

PORTLAND, Oregon – When you picture today's bionic man, Johnny Matheny from Port Richey, Florida should come to mind.

Doctors amputated his arm during cancer treatment a decade ago.

After years of using traditional prosthetics, he became a pioneer of sorts.

He took part in a targeted muscle reinnervation program.   TMR starts with surgery to rewire nerves in the arm, but that is only the beginning.

"I said you know this is going to help a lot of people if it works," remembered Matheny.

"And that's what I want to do.  I'm paying my life forward so I want to help as many people as I can."

It started with contacting Dr. Albert Chi.

"It really is like surgical rewiring of the body," explained Dr. Chi, Medical Director of the TMR program at Oregon Health and Science University.

The new artificial arm allows patients to move prosthetics with their mind, using intuitive thought.

"We take nerve endings that used to travel to the missing limb, reroute them to residual muscles that are still there, so now we can actually take that information that used to be traveling to nothing and have a way to actually record from it, amplify it, and translate that to useful movement."

After attaching the arm to a titanium implant on his bone, Matheny does a training set for specific movements.

His brain tells his muscles what to do.   Signals go through Bluetooth Myo bands, into a cellphone, and back to the arm.

"You don't have to think anything different," explained Matheny.   "It works just like your natural arm.  You grab things, you know you rotate your wrist, you bend your elbow."

It's not easy.

Johnny went through months of training before he could do things many things.

But the end result is priceless.

"Somebody that you know is totally dependent on somebody, now they've got a little bit of their pride, a little bit of their life back because they can reach down and get their own drink, they can feed themselves."

Matheny is the first person in the country with an osseointegration implant and TMR.

It gives him greater range of motion and removes the need for a shoulder harness to keep the prosthetic on.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   Targeted muscle reinnervation or TMR is a surgery for people with upper extremity amputation.  It is a new surgical procedure that reassigns the nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand, making it possible for people who have upper arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by thinking about the action they want to perform.  People who undergo this surgery are fitted with and trained to use a myoelectric prosthetic arm.  Those interested must go through a medical review to determine if they are eligible, but in general, patients must meet the following criteria; amputation above the elbow or at the shoulder within the last 10 years, stable soft tissues, and willingness to participate in rehabilitation.  Those born without part or all of their arms or those who suffered nerve damage, paralysis, or degeneration are not candidates for this procedure.   (Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/surgery/about/innovations/tmr.html)

His prosthetic arm has sensory capabilities and later this year Matheny will have surgery at Case Western Reserve University.   It means he'll be able to feel things with his artificial arm.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.