On a cold day in late 1998, Jim Jatich, 51, sat at a table in Cleveland, Ohio’s MetroHealth Medical Center and donned a cloth beanie with dozens of wires protruding from its surface. He had been practicing twice a week over several months for this moment, and he was so intent on the task at hand that the magnitude of it didn’t sink in until he emerged from the hospital later in the day.
“That’s when it hit me,” he recalls. “I got tears in my eyes, turned to my sister, and said, ‘Damn, I actually moved my hand by thinking about it.’”
Jatich is a quadriplegic who lost the use of his hands and legs in a swimming accident 21 years earlier. But in a series of first-of-a-kind experiments that hold out the promise of a more normal life for the handicapped, researchers led by biomedical engineer P. Hunter Peckham of Case Western Reserve University have succeeded in re-establishing the damaged connection between Jatich’s brain and body. Their strategy: combine two cutting-edge technologies into a system that uses brain waves to move paralyzed limbs.