Young Marine pioneers latest technology in complex prosthetic arm

After the explosion, Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos awoke to see the October sun glinting through the water, an image so lovely he thought he was dreaming. Then something caught his eye, yanking him back to grim awareness: an arm, bobbing near the surface, a black hair tie wrapped around its wrist.

The elastic tie was a memento of his wife, a dime-store amulet that he wore on every patrol in Afghanistan. Now, from the depths of his mental fog, he watched it float by like driftwood on a lazy current, attached to an arm that was no longer quite attached to him.

He had been blown up, and was drowning at the bottom of an irrigation ditch.

Two years later, the Texas corporal finds himself tethered to a different kind of limb, a $110,000 robotic device with an electronic motor and sensors able to read signals from his brain.

Gallegos, 23, is part of a small vanguard of military amputees who are benefiting from new advances in upper limb technology. Becoming proficient on his prosthesis remains a challenge, likely to take months more of tedious practice. For that reason, only the most motivated amputees — super users, they are called — are allowed to undergo the new surgery.

Read more about the new technology behind Gallegos’ prosthetic arm in the New York Times.

Gallegos’ story is part of a New York Time series called The Hard Road Back. See other stories in the series, which covers veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan who continue to confront the medical and psychological scars of battle.


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