A soldier injured in Afghanistan has become the first person in the UK to receive a though-controlled prosthetic limb.
After tragically losing his whole right arm in 2010 due to an injury from a rocket-propelled grenade, Corporal Andrew Garthwaite has been selected to receive ground-breaking treatment that only two medical facilities in the world – in Chicago and Vienna – can carry out.
The £60,000 bill for the revolutionary nerve transfer surgery, known as targeted muscle reinnervation, was picked up by the UK’s Ministry of Defence. During the procedure, experts at the Medical University in Vienna connected nerves that were originally used to control Garthwaite's arm and hand to his chest muscles.
18 months later and after undergoing intense rehabilitation, Garthwaite was able to demonstrate his progress to his peers and to Defence Minister Anna Soubry during his final visit to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court.
Focusing his thoughts on the nerves connected to muscles in his chest he is now able to open and close his robotic right hand and perform simple tasks such as making coffee or opening jars.
“The surgery has made a massive improvement to my life. I have become a lot more independent and all the normal things I was struggling with have become so much easier,” Corporal Garthwaite said.
Defence Minister Anna Soubry described Garthwaite’s renewed motoric capabilities like a ‘science-fiction’ and reassured the UK government will continue providing funding for cutting-edge treatment to the country’s injured military personnel.
“It has been an immense privilege to have witnessed this revolutionary mind-controlled prosthetic in action today. I am delighted that we were able to fund Corporal Andrew Garthwaite’s life-changing surgery and rehabilitation,” said Anna Soubry.
She also hinted the technology might eventually become available to NHS patients.
"It's not confined as a piece of fabulous equipment technology to people who have been injured during the course of serving their country,” Soubry said.
"Of course because of the intermeshing between Headley Court and the NHS there will be people who have suffered accidents or injuries that it might also suit as well. It is a huge benefit right across society."
The latest technology advance gives amputees unprecedented level of control over the prosthetic limbs. However, not only the surgery itself is extremely demanding. During the rehabilitation, the patient has to completely rewire his/her brain, which requires patience and discipline.
"He's shown incredible resilience to get to today,” said Tim Jones, a rehabilitation consultant at Headley Court who treated Cpl Garthwaite.