Tiffany Johnson was fitted with a bionic arm, after undergoing an innovative surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation, the mother-of-three is seen practicing control of the arm
A shark attack nearly threatened to extinguish self-described “vacation junkie” Tiffany Johnson down, but science has changed that, given her a fresh outlook on life
After undergoing an innovative surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation, the mother-of-three was fitted with a bionic arm, according to CNN.
The procedure, developed 16 years ago by Dr. Todd Kuiken, was performed by Drs. Bryan Loeffler and Glenn Gaston in her native North Carolina.
It aims to prepare amputees to receive technologically advanced limbs connected to their nervous systems.
“When the hand [is] lost, you still have that same signal that can be sent down, but it doesn’t have a target anymore,” Loeffler explained.
Before the accident: Tiffany Johnson [photo], with her husband James Johnson. She lost her forearm in a shark attack in the Bahamas last June.
Surgeons performing TMR redirect the nerves that controlled the amputated limb into the remaining part, giving the signal a target in a new location.
“The signal that’s going from the brain, now it doesn’t have a dead end, it has a muscle, and it will cause it to contract. When the muscle contracts, it generates an electrical signal that is detected by a sensor that’s on the skin, and that signal is transduced into a prosthetic to allow the thumb function to occur,” Loeffler told CNN.
Gaston added that it usually takes patients about an hour of training to perform the many functions the prosthetic is capable of. In the past, it took months.
“They literally just have to think ‘close my hand,’ and they close their (prosthetic) hand,” he said.
CNN joined Johnson at OrthoCarolina Reconstructive Center for Lost Limbs where she signed her medical documents with her new limb and learned a few other commands.
32-year-old Tiffany Johnson of Concord, North Carolina, was snorkeling off the coast of the Bahamas when she felt the bump on her arm. It didn’t hurt, so she casually glanced to her right, angling to stay still so she didn’t disturb the fish she’d been admiring.
Shock. That bump turned out to be a live shark, and her arm was in his mouth, and it was, threatening to shred her, if only she would give in.
The shark didn’t count on her indomitable spirit. She struggled with the beast and came out alive, albeit, sans one half of an arm.
The family provide much needed support
That tough survival instinct is still working.
The surgeon, Glenn Gaston told CNN, “The real unique challenge with Tiffany was the very short residual limb that we had to work with. We had to be fairly creative with which nerves we re-routed to the few muscles remaining,” Gaston told CNN. But the optimist, Johnson remains hopeful that one day she’ll be able to put her hair in a ponytail again and cook with both hands. She is tackling the task of overcoming challenges while getting used to her new limb.
Still, the thrill-seeker is still grappling with the horror of the shark attack.
Speaking with the CNN, she explained that it’s her faith that has kept her grounded through it all.
“A couple of days after the attack, I started reading Psalm 18 and I couldn’t keep it together… where it says ‘the grave wrapped its robe around me. Death itself stared me in the face.’ That’s exactly what happened; I was staring face to face with that shark,” she said.
“And then later, ‘He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters.’ I was just in awe of reading this. I was just thinking, oh my God, this is my story.”
Fun-loving, active family: Tiffany Johnson with her husband James Johnson, and their children
Johnson was attacked while vacationing with her husband James in the Caribbean in June 2017. On the final day of their cruise, the pair decided to charter a snorkel expedition in the Bahamas.
They were joined by another couple as they headed for a location about 10 minutes from Paradise Island, just thirty minutes into the adventure, Johnson bumped into something in the water while taking in the sights.
“I was just starting at the fish, and I felt a tug on my arm,” she recalled.
“I remember even just thinking ‘Oh, what did I bump into?’ And then when I turned, I was face-to-face with the shark.”
Johnson remembered seeing the shark sizing her up before she realized her entire arm was inside its mouth.
She tried to pull it out, at which time the creature bit down right below her elbow.
“I remember hearing the sound of my screaming through the snorkel tube,” she said.
Johnson was able to get away from the shark and make it back to the ship, but her arm was half-gone.
Tiffany Johnson was attacked while vacationing with her husband JJ in the Caribbean in June 2017.
An ambulance arrived and rushed her to a hospital for surgery. After the first procedure, she and her husband got in contact with their pastor back home who was able to procure a private jet to get them back to the U.S.
The next day Johnson and her husband returned to North Carolina where she received further treatment.