TMR Rewires Johnny’s Bionic Arm


PORTLAND, Ore. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — When you picture today’s bionic man, Johnny Matheny from Port Richey, Florida should come to mind. Doctors amputated his arm during cancer treatment a decade ago. After years of using traditional prosthetics, he became a pioneer of sorts, in a targeted muscle reinnervation program. TMR starts with surgery to rewire nerves in the arm, but that is only the beginning.

When Johnny Matheny heard about TMR, he called Dr. Albert Chi right away.

“I said you know this is going to help a lot of people if it works. A lot of people. And that’s what I want to do; I’m paying my life forward. So I want to help as many people as I can,” Matheny told Ivanhoe.

Albert Chi, MD, Medical Director of the TMR Program at Oregon Health & Science University said, “It really is like surgical rewiring of the body.” (Read Full Interview)

This allows patients to move prosthetics with intuitive thought.

“We take nerve endings that used to travel to the missing limb, reroute them to residual muscles that are still there, so now we can actually take that information that used to be traveling to nothing and have a way to actually record from it, amplify it, and translate that to useful movement,” explained Dr. Chi.

After attaching the arm to a titanium implant on his bone, Johnny does a training set for specific movements. His brain tells his muscles what to do. Signals go through Bluetooth Myo bands, into a cellphone, and back to the arm.

“You don’t have to think anything different. It works just like your natural arm. You do like this, you grab things; you know you rotate your wrist, you bend your elbow,” Matheny said.

It’s not easy. Johnny went through months of training before he could do things like drink from a glass. But the end result: priceless!

Matheny continued, “Somebody that you know is totally dependent on somebody- now they’ve got a little bit of their pride, a little bit of their life back because they can reach down and get their own drink, they can feed themselves.”

Johnny sees endless possibilities.

Johnny is the first person in the country with an osseointegration implant and TMR. It gives him greater range of motion and removes the need for a shoulder harness to keep the prosthetic on. His prosthetic arm has sensory capabilities and later this year Johnny will have surgery at Case Western to be a user of that capability. That means he’ll be able to feel things!

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4357

BACKGROUND: People may lose all or part of an arm or leg for a number of different reasons: including, but not limited to; cancer, birth defects, injuries including traffic accidents and military combat as well as severe problems with blood circulation. Some amputees have phantom pain, which is a feeling of pain in the missing limb. Other physical problems may include skin problems and surgical complications. Recovering from the loss of limb can be difficult; anger, frustration, and sadness are common. If a patient is having a hard time, it may be of their best interest to talk to their doctor. Treatment with medicine or counseling can help.


PROSTHETICS: An artificial substitution or replacement of a part of the body is designed for functional or cosmetic reasons, sometimes both. Typical prostheses for joints are hip, knee, elbow, ankle and finger joints. In addition to standard artificial limbs for everyday use, many patients have special limbs and devices to aid in the participation of sports and other recreational activities. An artificial limb is a type of prosthesis that replaces a missing extremity, such as an arm or leg. The type of artificial limb used is mainly determined by the extent of an amputation or loss, and the location of the missing extremity. With advances in technology, the creation of life-like limbs made from silicone or PVC has been made possible. There are four main types of artificial limbs; transradial, transhumeral, transtibial, and transfemoral. The type of prosthesis depends on which part of the limb is missing.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Targeted muscle reinnervation or TMR is a surgery for people with upper extremity amputation. It is a new surgical procedure that reassigns the nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand, making it possible for people who have upper arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by thinking about the action they want to perform. People who undergo this surgery are fitted with and trained to use a myoelectric prosthetic arm. Those interested must go through a medical review to determine if they are eligible, but in general, patients must meet the following criteria; amputation above the elbow or at the shoulder within the last 10 years, stable soft tissues, and willingness to participate in rehabilitation. Those born without part or all of their arms or those who suffered nerve damage, paralysis, or degeneration are not candidates for this procedure.



Erik Robinson

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Albert Chi, MD

Read the entire Q&A