By Gideon Gil
"Can you give me a thumbs up?” the surgeon asks Jerry Majetich, an Iraq War veteran, during a checkup this spring at a Boston hospital. “Can you make me a fist? And extend your fingers?”
It is an odd, even jarring, series of requests to make of a patient whose right arm has been amputated above the wrist and who, during the checkup, is not even wearing a prosthetic. And yet, to Majetich, they make sense. After each command from the doctor, he does what he is asked. You can see the muscles flex under the skin of what is left of his forearm.
“I can still feel it,” Majetich tells the doctor, explaining that in his mind’s eye, his missing hand is still there, attached to his stump. “All the fingers feel like they’re in the right place.”
Majetich’s feeling that a “phantom” hand is real is the result of a groundbreaking type of arm amputation performed in the summer of 2020 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. First developed for patients requiring leg amputations, the experimental procedure recreates the connections between muscles that are lost in standard amputation surgery. Majetich was the first person to undergo the procedure on an arm.