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Artificial Arms that Respond to Thoughts

Jesse Sullivan was an electrical lineman who loved fishing and camping. But all that changed when he lost both of his arms after he was electrocuted while working on power lines.

Today, Jesse Sullivan knows what cutting edge technology can do for his life. Doctors took the nerves that used to connect to his arms and attached them to his chest muscles.

These nerves allow him to bend his prosthetic elbow and open and close his prosthetic hand by thinking what he wants to do.

His doctor touches Jesse’s chest and asks, "What does that feel like?" "You're touching me at the elbow and the top side of the arm," replies Jesse. "How about right over here?" "At the finger and the thumb on the back side of the hand."

Sensors are attached to Jesse’s chest and connect to the transplanted nerves. When Jesse thinks, "rotate wrist," part of his chest muscle contracts and the sensors on his chest tell his computerized arm to rotate his wrist.

Bill Limehouse, a specialist in prosthetics with Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, says a lot of advances are being made in his field, but artificial limbs like Jesse Sullivan's are still in the development stage.

He predicts they will be available within the next decade. "I think the advancements that have been made in the last five years have been ten-fold over the advancements of the last ten years,” says Mr. Limehouse.

He says the prosthesis Jesse Sullivan wears is bulky and heavier on one side than the other and that hand movement needs to be faster.

But from Jesse's point of view, being part of this experiment has changed his outlook on life. Said Jesse, "It brings you out of a depressed state of mind into a hopeful state because the future's brighter."

He says no one wants to be an amputee or to be unable to do the things that make life worthwhile.