DENVER (CBS4)– Colorado will have a role in groundbreaking technology that could change prosthetic devices forever. Researchers from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center and University of Colorado Boulder are working to bring touch into those devices.
In 2012, Marine Veteran Gary Verrazono was involved in a life changing accident at work.
“I was running an aerial lift something happened to the hydraulics and it fell over and threw me out and then fell on top of me,” Verrazono said.
He lost both his right arm and right leg.
“I did not want to do anything, it took me quite a while for them to talk me into getting a prosthetic,” he said.
Now that he has, he says every day is a learning experience.
“I can carry something and if I’m talking to somebody my hand will open up and I won’t even notice,” he said.
That loss of touch may soon be a thing of the past.
“I can move my thumb toward the fingertip and I start squeezing we can see both the proximity and force move up and down,” Dr. Jacob Segil with the Rocky Mountain Regional VA said while demonstrating the new technology.
For years, Segil and a team from CU have been building special sensors that fit into prosthetic fingertips.
“Basically the fingertip sensors do everything that our nervous system does already, to measure and process the signal and send it where it needs to go,” he said.
Meanwhile researchers from the VA in Cleveland have designed and are testing technology that sends those signals to the brain.
“We literally plug them in. The wires that are in the fingertip connect to other electronics and software and eventually plug into the body,” he said.
The physical benefits are one thing, but Segil says the advancements will have a tremendous impact on the mental aspect that many amputees face.
“When we restore this sense of touch and we are sending information back to the brain then the limb is embodied and it becomes a part of the person again,” Segil said.
While Verrazono is not part of the research he says just knowing the work is being done brings hope.
“Knowing you can feel things again, that would be awesome,” he said.