During a New Years Eve celebration with his family in Denmark, Dennis Sorensen was setting off fireworks when something went terribly wrong. One of the rockets he was using malfunctioned and blew off a large portion of his left hand.
Doctors had to amputate the remaining portion of his hand, and since the surgery, Sorensen has been using a standard prosthetic hand that does basic things like opening and closing. However, he has to watch his every movement with the hand because he can’t feel anything he’s holding or touching. That was until he heard about a testing prosthetic that would give him the chance to feel again.
Soon after hearing about the experiment, Sorensen traveled to Rome to become the first person to try it. First, the researchers added sensors to each one of Sorensen’s fingers. Then, surgeons inserted small electrodes into his arm that connected the sensors with his arm's nerves. Immediately, Sorensen was able to feel everything. “It was really, really amazing because suddenly my artificial hand and my brain were working together for the first time in many years,” Sorensen told NPR.
The doctors ran multiple sensory tests, like blindfolding Sorensen and having him determine the difference between an orange and a baseball, a wooden block and a piece of fabric. Sorensen spent weeks last year testing the device and had great success, but some researchers are skeptical. Aside from the prosthetic’s bulkiness, some wonder if amputees would be willing to undergo surgery to have electrodes implanted in their arms. Others are more optimistic.
"I believe that when you add sensation, that prosthesis changes from a tool that they're using at the end of their limb to their hand," Dustin Tyler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, told NPR. "And if that's what they get back, I believe in that case it would be worth the implant."
Check out video of Sorenson here.