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Seen At 11: Medical Condition Causes 'Alien Hands' To Have Minds Of Their Own

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Imagine having no control over one of your hands. Living with a body part that has a mind of its own sounds impossible to believe, but it is a very real medical condition that makes life difficult for sufferers.

"I would make a telephone call and this hand would hang up the phone," said "helpless hands" sufferer Karen Byrne.

Even getting dressed can be a challenge.

"Pull your socks on with both hands and then the left hand is trying to pull it off," James Cooke told CBS 2's Maurice Dubois.

Neither Byrne or Cooke has control over their left hand.

"My left hand has a mind of its own, so it's always alien to my body," Cooke said.

Byrne and Cooke suffer from a rare, but real, medical syndrome known as Alien Hand.

"What happens is that a person's hand suddenly starts to do something that a person isn't expecting it to do," Dr. Ihtsham Haq, asst. professor, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said.

Those afflicted told CBS 2 that the syndrome can cause serious problems.

"I would light a cigarette and this one would put it out. I would be drinking coffee and this hand would dump it," Byrne said.

It can even cause a sufferer to lash out at other people.

"I had a patient doing things like grabbing at people's clothes. One day she grabbed at my pants," Dr. Haq recalled.

Haq studies Alien Hand Syndrome. He said that the syndrome is caused by a conflict between the left and right half of the brain.

"The connections between the two halves of the brain are damaged in some way, so what that does is allow your brain to become almost two independent people, where your intent and actions are separated," he explained.

Cooke struggles to even hold two fingers up on his Alien Hand.

"I'm mentally saying hey, put two fingers up," he said as he tried to complete the task.

His hand would not allow him to do it.

The condition has severely impacted Byrne's life.

"I cannot work, I can't, right now, even food shop. It's frightening to people and I don't want to scare people," she said.

Sufferers have very few choices, there is no cure, and treatments do not have a high success rate.

"We remain hopeful that we'll find something that will work more consistently," Dr. Haq said.

Cooke and Byrne told CBS 2 that they try to laugh at the situations that their hands get them into. Both of their conditions are the result of brain surgeries. The syndrome can also come about as a result of brain injury, stroke, and dementia, according to doctors.

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