The definition of an amputation is “the action of surgically cutting off a limb,” however, an amputation can also happen by accident. Many times, an amputation of the hand, finger or arm is the result of a tragic accident, but amputations can also be planned surgeries to prevent the spread of a disease. Sometimes, fingers that were amputated in an accident can be reattached by a hand surgeon, but this isn’t always possible.
The doctors at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia truly are amazing and the latest example caused a standing ovation at Tuesday night’s Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards. Prior to the game, nine-year-old Zion Harvey threw out the first pitch to Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.
While a nine-year-old throwing out the first pitch would be a fun story on its own, Harvey’s path to that moment made it special.
Roughly one year ago, Harvey—a Maryland resident—became the first child in history to undergo successful bilateral hand transplant surgery at CHOP in Philadelphia. When Harvey was two, he developed an infection that led to his hands and feet amputated. Years later, the doctors at CHOP helped remake his life and what happened in Baltimore on Tuesday night possible.
I have seen news stories about robotic arms. What is really out there for people to use?
Advances in upper extremity prosthetics have come slowly over the last 100 years. The first prosthetics were cable-driven devices or body-powered prostheses. These required the user to be able to move his/her body (usually the shoulder) to pull on a cable to bend and straighten the arm or open and close a hook. Most big leaps forward have, unfortunately, come from wartime injuries. Cable-driven prosthetics became the norm around the time of WWI, WWII and the Korean War. During Vietnam, myoelectric prostheses emerged. Myoelectric prostheses are controlled with the electric signals produced by muscles in the person’s remaining arm. Now, after 15 years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the area of upper extremity prosthetics is ready to make another big jump.
Upper extremity prosthetics have made a splash in the news during the past 10 years as a result of the 2006 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Revolutionizing Prosthetics project. The program grew from a desire to make an arm that moves exactly like a human arm. Dean Kamen (creator of the Segway) helped develop the DEKA Arm, sometimes called the “Luke arm” after Luke Skywalker. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab created the APL limb. While the APL limb is still in the research stage, the DEKA Arm was approved for the market by the FDA in 2014. Other prostheses on the market include the Michaelangelo hand from Ottobock, and the iLimb hand from TouchBionics.
The infant had no arms and no legs, but there was a brightness in his deep brown eyes that took Devon Toomey’s breath away. She couldn’t stop staring at the photo on Reese’s Rainbow special-needs adoption website. She just knew, without question, that the boy was meant to be her son.
“I couldn’t pull my eyes away – there was something special about him,” Devon, 40, tells PEOPLE, relaxing at the sunny kitchen table in her Eagle, Idaho, home as her three boys wrestle and laugh on the carpet nearby. “I’d always felt that when the time was right, a child in need would find us. And here he was, waiting for us, thousands of miles away.”