Port Richey, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Johnny Metheny sits at an electric piano in his Port Richey home self-teaching himself the song Amazing Grace. Johnny’s never played before, but he’s determined to master the song. He plays through fairly well with his right hand.
"That side I got down pretty good,” said Metheny.
Then he raises his left hand to the keyboard, the hand he’s only known for a few short months, and that he never thought he’d be raising.
The world’s first fully mind controlled artificial arm.
"This is called the modular prosthetic limb,” said Metheny as the robotic-looking hand sprung to life and made a fist.
Metheny’s worked with several versions of the arm for several years now, but the newest has brought him closer to actually having full use of his left hand than he’s been in about 15 years.
"I lost my arm due to cancer,” said Metheny who recalled the fast moving cancer that started as just a protrusion on his left hand.
He said the cancer has only effected about 4 other people on record and as it quickly moved to threaten his life, Johnny said it became the easiest difficult decision he’s ever had to make.
"You're either going to have to lose your limb or you're going to die. That was basically a no brainer, ya know, see ya!" said Metheny.
Johnny’s left arm was amputated just above the elbow, but he survived.
After the massive scare Metheny said the news he’d made it 2 years cancer free was life-changing. At that point the West Virginia native decided he had to do more with his life to pay forward his good fortune.
So Metheny said he told doctors to make him their guinea pig to help find a better life for amputees; better technology to give them a better future.
Eventually he was introduced to a new implant-based technology where an artificial limb is attached to a post implanted into the actual bones of a human being. Metheny said he had to work through a lot of red tape as the procedure was not approved in the US, but eventually he worked through it and took it on.
However, the technology is more than a metal post coming out of his arm.
Scientists also attached the nerves that once went to Metheny’s hand to electronics instead. Now, the signals that his brain would normally send to ‘move hand’ or ‘move fingers’ instead move the muscles in his upper arm.
That brings us to the magic of Metheny’s new arm. Along with the robotic-looking hand, Metheny also wears two bands around his left bicep which sense those movements in his muscles.
"And it (the band) Bluetooths it to the elbow which then Wi-Fis it down to the computer in the hand,” he said.
Call that the cliff-notes explanation on the extremely involved technology, but basically it allows him to manipulate the hand with the same brain signals anyone else would use on a normal hand.
It’s mind controlled.
The technology was developed at the Johns Hopkins University Medical labs as part of a one year test program with the Department of Defense.
Metheny said their hope is to ultimately make a workable technology for soldiers who have to get an amputation and want to continue serving.
After what he’s experienced though, Metheny thinks the technology could make a better life for anyone dealing with an arm amputation.
"This is my arm. Anybody asks, it's my arm,” he said.
Johnny still has to use a smart phone app to reset the arm occasionally and fine tune certain skills, but he said it’s getting better with each update. In fact he said there’s already talk of adding sensors into future versions so that he could potentially feel items in the hand, heat, cold, even pain.
Right now, Metheny is just the test subject for the program, and he said he will potentially have to give the arm back at some point. However he’s helped launch a non-profit, Star Fish Prosthetics, to help continue the funding for the project and continue development of the technology so he and other amputees can one day access it easily and reclaim their lost limbs.
For more information visit: https://www.starfishprosthetics.org/