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  • Targeted Muscle Reinnervation

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"Bionic" Arm in Motion

This video shows Jesse Sullivan using his prosthetic arm in an occupational therapy session. Jesse underwent targeted muscle reinnervation surgery to control his arm with his thoughts. Please note that the prosthetic arms in these videos are experimental and not generally available.

Another video of Jesse Sullivan using a DEKA Research arm.

See video of Claudia Mitchell using her brain to control a DEKA Research arm.

Watch video of Amanda Kitts controlling a DEKA Research arm with her thoughts.

Targeted Muscle Reinnervation: 
Control Your Prosthetic Arm With Thought

RIC Patient, Claudia, in therapy after TMR surgeryTo say loss of an arm changes your life is an understatement. Tasks you once took for granted now pose a significant challenge. Prosthetic devices help, but they can be quite difficult to control, requiring unnatural movements of small chest muscles.

Scientists at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have developed a surgical procedure to reassign nerves that once controlled the arm and hand you lost, to your pectoral muscles. By reassigning these nerves, doctors can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform. Once experimental, this innovative procedure is now available to the public.

People who undergo the targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery will be fitted with and trained to use a commercially available myoelectric prosthetic arm. No experimental “bionic” arms are available at this time.

Who Might Benefit from Targeted Muscle Reinnervation Surgery?

Those interested in undergoing the procedure to reassign their nerves allowing them to better control their prosthetic arm must undergo a rigorous medical review process to determine their viability. In general, patients must meet the following criteria:

  • Amputation above the elbow or at the shoulder within the last 10 years. Ideal candidates will have had their amputations in the last five years
  • Children must be at least 14-years old and meet a minimum weight requirement
  • Those born missing part or all of their arm and those suffering nerve damage, degeneration or paralysis are not candidates for this procedure
  • Successful use of a powered device is beneficial

Innovation at RIC can help advance your ability and enhance your quality of life

What is Involved?

The process from the start until you are home with your new device can take about a year or longer. There are four phases involved, and then we consider you to have a “lifelong partnership” with RIC for follow-ups or necessary therapy or repairs as time goes on. You can expect your experience to reflect the following sequence.

RIC's "Bionic Man", Jessie, having wires attachedPhase One: Viability Review

RIC experts will review your medical records and then, if appropriate, physically examine you to determine if this procedure is right for you. This can take one to two months, depending on the arrival of medical records and scheduling.

Phase Two: Financial and Medical Clearance

We will ensure that you are medically sound in order to undergo the surgery procedure. We also will work with you to secure insurance approvals for both the procedure and the prosthetic device. Once the final insurance approvals are in, then you will need to make a decision on whether to move forward based on your ability to pay your portion of the hospital costs as well as the medical equipment cost. This can take anywhere from two weeks to six months, depending on the insurance plan.

Phase Three: Surgery and Muscle Reinnervation

Surgery will be scheduled a minimum of six weeks from the time a decision is made to proceed. Assuming the surgery goes smoothly, you can expect a two-day stay at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. You will then go home and wait five to six months for the nerves to regrow, at which point you will return to RIC for an evaluation of the nerve development. You also may meet with a prosthetist for revisions to your current prosthetic device if the fit has changed after surgery. The time allotted for this entire phase is six to eight months.

Phase Four: Device Fitting and Training

Once you have healed and the nerves have had a chance to grow, your arm will be custom-built to correspond to your newly reinnervated muscles. You will undergo several fittings as the arm is built, as well as physical and occupational therapy to develop the muscles in your chest as well as your core muscles so you can support the new prosthetic. This process takes about two months, and generally consists of two or three two-week visits.

Once your arm has been fitted and you return home with it, we recommend you see a prosthetist every six months for maintenance. If you do not live in Chicago, you can do that in your hometown. An RIC prosthetist will need to address socket repairs and possibly mechanical issues, depending on the problem. We will recommend that you call RIC to discuss any problems you are having and determine if you need to come in.

How Do I Start the TMR Process?

To find out if you are a candidate for targeted muscle reinnervation, call our dedicated line at 1-800-354-7342 (or 312-238-1000 locally) and ask for the TMR office, ext. 6035.