Making Holding Hands New Again

Photo: Think Stock
Photo: Think Stock

I love a good miracle-especially when it's the kind somebody took a picture of to prove it actually happened. A few days ago, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins found a way to help a paralyzed man use a robotic arm to hold his girlfriend's hand-just by thinking "I want to hold your hand." A chip in his brain directed the the high-tech limb to operate the way a real one does, by desire and mental direction. The man, Tim Hemmes, and his girlfriend had met after his motorcycle accident in 2004, Business Week reported. He had never been able touch her before.

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The pictures published in the San Francisco Chronicle-are astonishing, not just for the contrast of her human hand in his robotic one-but for the expression on her face.

While being interviewed Hemmes added, "I always tell people your legs are great ... but...your arms and fingers and hands do everything else. I have to get those back, I absolutely have to." He also said his goal is is to hug his 8-year-old daughter. "I'm going to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to do that again."

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Uh-oh, I thought. Because what if his beliefs don't come true? What if he doesn't get his real flesh-and-blood hands back, no matter how much faith he has in himself and technology? What do we do as humans when we put all our energy and time behind something that might not pan out? I had that horrible feeling I get sometimes when I watch my son try to do something impossible, like build a race car out of paper that will drive-only it was worse because this man's life was at stake.

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Which was the phrase that snapped back me out of my dark little mind cave. His life was at stake. I realized something, something I should have realized all along. Hemme's belief is not in the power of robotics or brain chips. His belief is in hope-and this is the quality that is defining is his life. For example, he could have done anything with that hand: scratched an itch, brushed back his hair, shook hands with the doctor. But he chose to reach out to someone he loved-and to show her how he felt.

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