Bionic Arms Replace Lost Limbs

Jesse Sullivan's new arm is one-of-a-kind bionic marvel that lets him do things few thought would ever be possible.

As Sullivan shows CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston how his arms work, he says that "all of that is natural. I just do it. I just do it like you do yours."

Sullivan lost his arms four years ago on the job as a power company lineman. He tried traditional prosthetics, but they were not liberating enough for an active man who loved the outdoors.

"I wanted something better. I wanted the $6 million man's arm," Sullivan says.

Hoping to turn fiction into rehab reality, doctors in Chicago picked Sullivan three years ago to test their revolutionary concept.

"Basically, what we did was to take the four major nerves that used to go down Jesse's arm and transferred them to his chest muscle," Dr. Todd Kuiken, who works at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, says.

Those regenerated nerves in the chest became the connection points for the wires leading to the artificial arm, completing the link to the brain.

"You think: 'close hand.' We pick up the muscle signal. The computer tells the hand to close," Kuiken explains.

And the system does more than just signal the arm to move.

When Kuiken presses his finger into Sullivan's chest muscle, the doctor adds, "It feels like you're touching his hand. Where is that Jesse?"

"It's in the palm of my hand between my finger and my thumb," Sullivan replies.

And one more near miracle. Typical prosthetics can only make one motion at a time: Sullivan's bionic arms are much more flexible. So, he can pick up a dish or take off his cap. For most of us, no big deal. For a double amputee, it's a lot more.

Sullivan says optimistically, "This is dignity, hope and the future all rolled up in one. With this, who knows, a year from now, two years from now. The technology is out there."