I recently read an article pertaining to the development of fake nerves to help amputees "feel" within their prosthetics. According to the article, the first human trial is only three years away. Imagine, within a decade amputees may be able to experience at least some restored feeling through their prosthetic arms and legs. This afternoon I read an article about a successful double hand transplant. There has never been a better time in history to be an amputee!
Technology is progressing at a furious rate. We are just scratching the surface of implementing bionic technology into prosthetic devices. In the seven years since I've lost my leg, I have seen the advent of a computerized ankle and the seal-in liner. The PowerKnee and the new C-Leg both allow above knee amputee ambulate up stairs leg over leg. These seemingly small improvements have a monumental impact on the quality of life for the amputee.
Out of everything, I miss feeling the warm grass under my foot. I try to remember the sensation, but as time is passing, it is becoming more difficult. It makes me sad to think that I will never feel that feeling, that symbol of carefree summer freedom, again. There was a time I would have undergone any surgery to restore that sensation.
As I have become more comfortable as an amputee, I am no longer eager to be the test subject. I am happy with my life and, as I have learned, surgeries can go wrong and make a situation worse. I am not willing to risk my mobility on the chance of restoring a sensation.
Surgical innovations are going to eventually reshape the possibilities for amputees. I suspect that the nerve technology will be most practical when it is implemented at the same time as the amputation. Imagine waking up from an amputation and still having a nervous system connection to the missing limb!
I am reminded of a scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker lost his hand in an epic battle with Darth Vador. His hand was completely severed from his body. The final scene of the movie showed Luke receiving a fully functional artificial hand with an intact nervous system. This concept was science fiction in the 1980's. Now, 30 years later the Skywalker hand could be a reality in my lifetime.