National Geographic : 2010 Jan
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: MARK THIESSEN, NG STAFF Amanda Kitts tests a bionic arm in the prosthetics lab at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Four years ago an automobile accident robbed Amanda Kitts of her arm and the ability to do things most of us take for granted, like making a sandwich. "I felt lost," the teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee, tells writer Josh Fischman in this month's cover story on bionics. Then Amanda met Todd Kuiken, a physician and biomedical engineer who knew that the nerves in an amputee's stump can still telegraph brain signals. He fitted her with a bionic arm. Bionics is technology at its most ingenious and humane. Most of us first encoun- tered the word in science fiction books or television shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. In that 1970s series, pilot Steve Austin is injured in a crash. His rebuilt body, which includes a bionic arm, eye, and legs, is nothing short of superhuman. But the bionics of modern medical engineering has little to do with enabling someone to run at 60 miles an hour or use an eye like a zoom lens. It is more about the quiet miracle of holding a fork or seeing the silhouette of a tree. It's about allowing people like Amanda to reclaim what they've lost. A year ago Ray Edwards, a quadruple amputee, was one of the first people in the United Kingdom to be fitted with a bionic hand. When he flexed his new hand for the first time, he cried. "It made me feel I was just Ray again," he said. The restoration of one's normal self is a powerful gift.