We don’t often think about how the sense of touch makes our lives possible. We grip a paper coffee cup with perfect force to hold it but not crush it. Our feet always find the floor. But for people with artificial limbs, or those with spinal injuries, the loss of touch can put the world beyond their grasp. Seventeen years ago, the Defense Department launched ato revolutionize prosthetic limbs. The robotics you’re about to see is amazing- but as we first reported earlier this year, even more remarkable is how the ‘feeling of feeling’ is returning to people like Brandon Prestwood.
Brandon Prestwood: For me, it was, it’s a battle if I wanted to live or die.
Scott Pelley: You weren’t sure you wanted to live?
Brandon Prestwood: No. I didn’t know if I wanted to or not.
Brandon Prestwood’s battle began with the loss of his left hand. In 2012, he was on a maintenance crew reassembling an industrial conveyor belt when someone turned it on.
Brandon Prestwood: And my arm was dragged in pretty much up to the shoulder. It crushed my bones in my arm and fed my arm through a gap of about one inch.
Scott Pelley: How did they save your life?
Brandon Prestwood: The other maintenance guys jumped in. They started basically takin’ the machine back apart. Once we got it back apart, I could look in and see what was there. And one of the gentlemen was a Vietnam veteran…
Scott Pelley: And the Vietnam veteran knew what to do.
Brandon Prestwood: yeah.
The Vietnam veteran knew tourniquets, but Prestwood lost his hand and couldn’t return to his job.
After four years with a hook, he told his wife, Amy, he wanted to volunteer for experimental research involving surgery at the VA
Amy Prestwood: I wasn’t 100% on board to begin with. But I knew he had his mind set that he was– he had to do this. And I couldn’t hold him back.
Six years later, thanks to the Defense Department and VA Projects, Prestwood controls this hand with nothing but his thoughts.
Lab tech: Everything still feels good?
Brandon Prestwood: Probably, when I got her around here…
Electrodes, implanted in muscles in his arm, pick up his brain’s electrical signals for movement. A computer