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Making a New Robotic Prosthesis a Reality

Two years ago, Jim Ewing fell nearly 50 feet from a cliff while rock climbing. The injuries he sustained left him with severe damage to the bones and nerves in his left leg.

This past July, Jim decided to take part in a first-of-its-kind surgical amputation procedure with Dr. Matthew Carty, director of the Lower Extremity Transplant Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, who created a robotic prosthetic, and funding from the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, Jim is set to embark on a new journey that could enable his brain to interact with a specially made prosthetic.

Jim's procedure will allow for the use of a next-generation robotic prosthesis capable of natural ankle movement and control and position of the prosthetic without seeing it.

“In its uninjured state, the human body is a dynamic machine, comprised of many moving parts that function in balance and enable us to do amazing things, like running and dancing, through the coordinated interaction of our brain and our muscles,” Dr. Carty explained. “Traditional amputations disrupt this dynamic state. As a result, lower limb amputees lose the ability to finely control the muscles in their residual legs and, more importantly, lose the ability to perceive where their limb is in space without looking at it.”

This fundamentally new type of amputation procedure, termed the Ewing Amputation, preserves muscle relationships and normal signalling between the muscles and the brain. The procedure is designed to allow for the use of a next-generation robotic prosthesis that is capable of natural ankle movement and control and position of the prosthetic without seeing it.

Watch this video to learn more about Jim's journey and this revolutionary new procedure.