Nerve Surgery Leaves Woman With Feeling in an Arm That Isn't There

"Claudia was the first person that we did this on. We purposely directed her hand sensation nerves onto some chest skin, and it worked," said Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute.

Now when somebody touches Mitchell's chest, she feels the sensations in her missing hand.

"Claudia's brain doesn't know where her hand is living right now," Kuiken said.

Paul Marasco, a touch specialist and research scientist with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, was brought in to study the hand sensations that Mitchell feels in her chest. He put together a detailed map, connecting what Mitchell's missing hand feels with the corresponding locations on her chest.

Depending on where you touch her chest, "she has the distinct sense of her joints being bent back in particular ways, and she has feelings of her skin being stretched," Marasco said.

And Mitchell feels the exact same sensation in the exact same spot, every single time.

"She is like clockwork," Marasco said. "Her sensations are very well established."

The Next Frontier

Doctors hope that Mitchell's new sensations will give them greater insight into how the brain deals with injury, and they also hope that it will help pave the way for future prosthetic technology. The next frontier is designing a prosthetic arm that will not only be able to touch but also to feel.

"When you touch something with this prosthetic hand, it will feel like your hand. When you touch your hot cup of coffee, you'll know it's warm," Kuiken said.

Mitchell is committed to the research, even spending most of her vacations at Kuiken's lab, test-driving the latest prosthetic equipment. Mitchell said that although she knows that she is a patient, she now feels that she is also part of the research team.

As for being called the "real life Bionic Woman," Mitchell finds it funny. She said she has never seen the 1970s show that starred Lindsay Wagner, but she is asked by children if she can do cool things with her bionic arm, like lift cars.

Mitchell doesn't want to be superhuman. She just wants what she has now -- a second chance at a normal life.

For more information about targeted reinnvervation surgery, click here.

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