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Since becoming the first woman (and second person) ever fitted with a bionic arm, Claudia Mitchell can do things most of us take for granted. “I can open a spaghetti jar and hold it up at an angle and use the spoon to empty it out,” she says. “Small things like that may seem trivial to a two-armed person, but it is very exciting to me.”
Mitchell, 26, lost her left arm in a 2004 motorcycle accident. Since the brain can detect the presence of an amputated limb, she was fitted last year with a 10-pound prosthesis controlled by her own thoughts. Nerves in her shoulder that once sent signals to the amputated arm were surgically rerouted to healthy muscle on her chest. Sensors on the robotic arm detect these nerve signals, which then instruct the arm how to move.
“Before the surgery, I doubted that I would ever be able to get my life back,” Mitchell says.
A former Marine officer who served in Kuwait and now mentors fellow veterans, she hopes the technology will help amputees returning from war.