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Page 3 Profile: Corporal Andrew Garthwaite, soldier


Mind over matter.

In this case, literally. Corporal Andrew Garthwaite, from South Tyneside, is adjusting to life with a bionic arm – which he can control with his thoughts. The 26-year-old soldier is believed to be the first person in the UK to benefit from the technology.

What happened to him?

While serving in Helmand, Afghanistan, in September 2010, Cpl Garthwaite was seriously injured when a Taliban grenade severed his right arm and killed one of his comrades. A ray of hope came in the form of Viennese bionics company Otto Bock.

It sounds like an impossible feat...

Not impossible, but far from simple. Cpl Garthwaite has undergone extensive surgery, including having his nervous system rewired, and has spent months learning how to use his new arm. Surgeons at the hospital in the Medical University of Vienna operated on him for six hours in January 2012 in a procedure called Targeted Muscle Reinnervation, which involved taking the nerve endings from his shoulder, that would have run down to his hand, and rewiring them into his chest muscles.

So how is he able to control it by thinking?

The operation gave Cpl Garthwaite the sensation of a hand growing in his chest, which he has had to learn to use in the same way as before his injury. Electrodes then send signals into the bionic arm so that he can control it. As he is using the same nerves organically responsible for arm movement, he makes movements instinctively, meaning that the prosthesis is essentially controlled by thought.

That’s amazing.

Upon first finding out that he had been chosen for the treatment, Cpl Garthwaite was “lost for words”. Now, he has a bit more to say, telling the BBC: “Because obviously I haven’t had a thumb or a finger for the last three years, then all of a sudden to start feeling stuff is a total weird feeling, so you have got to train your brain to move this hand.”

Has he come across any glitches so far?

Well, he does have one new party trick. If he thinks of moving his little finger too quickly, his whole hand suddenly rotates 360 degrees.  “I am still very lucky to be here and with this new life I have got hopefully I can be very successful in it,” he said.