In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 10, 2014

Getting a new grip

By In the Loop


It's an understatement to say that 2010 was a rough year for Mike Jirak. First, in February he had open heart surgery. Seven months later, the semi-truck he was driving rolled over as he was hauling milk into Minnesota from North Dakota. He was injured badly and lost an arm in the accident. "All I can tell you about the accident is what I've been told," Jirak tells us. As he understands it, he was carrying a tanker that was about a third to a half full of milk. Agricultural tankers don't have baffles inside because of bacteria issues, which can lead to sloshing issues. "All we can come up with," he says, "is that the milk started sloshing and tipped over the trailer."

Fortunately for Jirak, a man who lives near the Red River, which Jirak was crossing, happened to be outside and drove to the site after hearing the crash. Jirak, who initially was unconscious, came to and kicked his way out of the truck while the man was calling 911. Jirak says the man found him "crawling on the road with my severed limb asking him to tie off a tourniquet on my arm because … I was starting to bleed out." When the local sheriff arrived, Jirak immediately began telling him where he could find his wife and parents to let them know what had happened. "And he said, 'Mike, just relax, let's get you into the helicopter.'" Jirak, sat up on the gurney and said, "You can't leave without my arm," he tells us. "So they went (into the ditch) and got my arm, brought it into the helicopter, and away we went."

Six days later, Jirak woke up in a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota. He was fitted with a number of prosthetic arms that, while they helped him regain some of his normal arm function, just weren't what he was looking for. That's when he came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. "I came to Mayo about a year and a half ago after getting frustrated with the other prosthetics that I had," he says.

At Mayo, Jirak was introduced to Brian Carlsen, M.D., an orthopedic and plastic surgeon who told him about an innovative new surgical procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation. "Basically what we did was to take the nerves in his arm that were no longer working, and we plugged them back into some muscles that were still in his arm," Dr. Carlsen tells us. "So now, when his body thinks about moving his hand, those muscles can now move again and give a signal to his prosthetic." That allowed Jirak to be fitted with an advanced prosthetic arm that is controlled by his thoughts. Jirak recently showed off the prosthetic arm in a story on KARE-11 TV. "Now, when I have my arm on, if I want to move my finger, I don't even think about it anymore," he says. "I just do it."

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Tags: Dr. Brian Carlsen, Fargo, Orthopedics, Patient Stories, Plastic Surgery

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