Soldier gets mind-controlled limb

A soldier who had his arm blown off by a grenade in Afghanistan has become the first person in the UK to receive a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

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Corporal Andrew Garthwaite has become the first person in the UK to receive a thought-controlled prosthetic arm. (PA)

A soldier who had his arm blown off by a grenade in Afghanistan has become the first person in the UK to receive a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

The revolutionary surgery, which involved rewiring the nerve system, has been hailed as the future of prosthetic recovery.

Defence Minister Anna Soubry, who met Corporal Andrew Garthwaite today, said: "It is the stuff of almost science fiction coming to reality."

Cpl Garthwaite, 26, from South Shields, lost his arm when a rocket propelled grenade exploded during an operation in Helmand, Afghanistan in 2010.

He said: "When I first got told about the operation I thought it was some sort of fairy tale, that someone was taking the mickey. But here I am today with this arm that is fitted and works off my mind. It's unbelievable.

"It was definitely a risk. I wasn't worried at all because I had nothing to lose so it was a risk that I was willing to take."

Cpl Garthwaite was the first person in the country to undergo nerve transfer surgery known as Targeted Muscle Reinnervation.

This involved the rewiring of the nerve system so that the nerves that were originally used to control Cpl Garthwaite's arm and hand were redirected to his chest muscles.

There are currently only two centres in the world that know how to carry out this type of surgery - one in Chicago and one in Vienna.

Over the past 18 months Cpl Garthwaite has learnt how to control his prosthetic arm with his mind by focusing his thoughts on the nerves connected to muscles in his chest.

Cpl Garthwaite demonstrated today that he could carry out every day tasks such as potting a plant and making a jam sandwich using his mind to control his prosthetic arm.

Speaking at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Headley Court today, Cpl Garthwaite said: "It has been a really long journey, enjoyable in some places but frustrating in others. I'm just glad it's coming to an end on Friday.

"I'm going to have a nice Christmas with the family and my wife. I'd like to go in to TV presenting in the future. Whatever doors open, I'm looking forward to what is out there."

Ms Soubry said: "It is the stuff of almost science fiction coming to reality. I never thought I'd see something like this in my life time.

"I think you have to pinch yourself and think - he is doing this with his mind, with his brain. It is quite uncanny."

Ms Soubry hinted that the treatment could be made available on the NHS in the future: "It's not confined as a piece of fabulous equipment technology to people who have been injured during the course of serving their country.

"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."

Steve Lambert, a lead prosthetic technician at Headley Court who worked with Cpl Garthwaite during his rehabilitation, said: "I have been working in complex trauma for six years and this is the case that really put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

"I have seen the technology advance considerably over the last six years. I think this will be the future."

Tim Jones, a rehabilitation consultant at Headley Court who treated Cpl Garthwaite, said: "He's shown incredible resilience to get to today. You have to rewire your whole brain. There is no reason why this shouldn't be allowed on the NHS too."

Gillian Conway, a prosthetist at Headley Court who has been treating Cpl Garthwaite over the last two years, said: "It is a big step forward in prosthetics to be able to give someone intuitive control.

"You've always got to select the patient carefully. There is a lot of trauma that the patient has to go through. You need a lot of power and patience."

Cpl Garthwaite's surgery, which was carried out at the Medical University of Vienna in 2011, and prosthetic arm cost £60,000, paid for by the MoD.