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Enhanced Humans

Paralyzed Man Regains Hand Movement, Thanks to First-Ever Nerve-Transfer Surgery

Imagine having to retrain your brain just to close your fingers.

Ramon PerezAugust 23rd 2016

Headfirst

Tim Raglin regularly dove, headfirst, into the water at his family’s lake house. The 45-year old Canadian man had done so thousands of times without incident. In 2007, though Raglin hit his head on a rock in the shallow water, shattering a vertebra in his cervical spine.

His family pulled him to safety, saving him from drowning. However, for nine years, both his hands and feet were left paralyzed.

Now though, there’s hope for Raglin and others like him.

Raglin is the first Canadian to ever undergo a nerve transfer surgery. Dr. Kirsty Boyd from the Ottawa Hospital essentially rewired Raglin’s body– rerouting some of his fully-functional elbow nerves to his hand. Although Raglin had to wait several months for the nerves to regrow, this procedure allowed him to regain some control over his right hand.

Raglin can now unfold his fingers from the palm of his right hand and grip onto items such as a fork, a shaver and a toothbrush.
Ottawa Citizen

Road to Independence

After persevering for 18 months, Raglin was finally able to open his fingers during an occupational therapy session at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre.

“It was kind of a shock,” he said in an interview. “And it’s really moving now: There’s a lot of nerves touching muscles that are getting stronger…Every iteration, it just gets more and more exciting.”

It’s still a slow uphill battle for Raglin. The muscles in his hand have deteriorated from lack of use, so they tire easily. In addition, because Raglin is using a different nerve pathway to activate the muscles in his hand, it will take some time for his brain to adjust to the new system.

Despite these challenges, he has learned to close his fingers on something by flexing his bicep. In time, however, it’s expected his brain will figure out how to separate the triggers for his hand and his bicep.

“I’m not quite at the point where I can get a cup off the table, but I can envision myself doing that. I know I will be able to do that eventually—so it’s exciting to see that.”

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