‘Words can hardly explain it:’ Veterans receive limb replacements that give sense of touch

Veterans Voices

CLEVELAND (WJW) — The last time that Danny Werner felt his left foot on the ground, he was walking along a path with his Army unit in Vietnam in 1969.

It was possibly a mine that detonated and mangled his left foot to badly, it had to be amputated.

But 52 years later, Danny feels his toes and his foot again – even though they are not there.

He’s testing a special prosthetic that’s being used by a team of engineers and doctors at the Advanced Platform Technology Center, a collaboration between the Cleveland’s Veterans Administration Hospital and Case Western Reserve University.

He’s walking on a special treadmill that simulates uneven ground. And how his nerve endings react to every step, is being monitored through electrodes on his skin so that the connections can be tweaked to give Danny more feeling and dexterity.

Researchers at the VA are hoping to build a better bridge between the biological and mechanical.

Army Veteran Keith Vonderhuevel lost his right hand in an industrial accident in 2005.

Even though Keith’s hand is not there, like with all amputees, the connections between his brain and hand are still there. They just don’t have an actual hand to move.

Hooked up to two computers through a set of imbedded electrodes, Keith has been a part of these studies for the past few years and the hands have gotten better and better.

He says getting a sense of touch in his right hand for him is means everything.

It’s those tactile feelings that people who have lost limbs miss the most. Whether it’s feeling a hard object or a piece of unstable ground.

Researchers say the technology is poised to give people back the simple joys of personal contact.

Although there is still a while to go, the researchers say it’s about taking those small steps forward and learning more about the biological language that tells the body to move.

But in the interim, it’s all about feeling simple things….and that a loss of limb does not take away the joys of life.

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