Sepsis took Karen Sussex’s right arm about six years ago, but not her positive attitude.Sussex, from Jackson, loves her low-tech prosthetic arm, adorned with stickers from her beloved Detroit Red Wings and a hook on the end. She even jokes that her nieces and nephews call her “Captain Hook.”Still, the loss of her arm took away her livelihood on a manufacturing and injection molding assembly line in her hometown. But now, Sussex has found a solution to that as a participant in Michigan Medicine research into robotic arms with fine-motor movement.

Sussex not only takes pride in how this helps her own situation, but also in how it will help others like her.

“I know that it’s helping not only myself, but other people down the road,” she said. “That feeling of being a part of this makes me think let’s do a lot of good things for others.”

Sussex has come to the University of Michigan Kinesiology Building, 830 N. University Ave. in Ann Arbor, for nearly four years while a team of doctoral engineers works to connect signals in her brain to a robotic hand at the end of her arm.

“That amplifies those tiny nerve signals,” Cederna said. “So when someone goes to move a prosthetic, they don’t actually have to learn anything, because their brain is doing exactly what it did when they had a hand.”

Without a willing participant, such as Sussex, the research goes nowhere, Cederna said.
“Her contributions are immeasurable,” he said. “We are forever indebted to Karen.”
Sussex makes the 45-minute drive from Jackson to Ann Arbor frequently, as she does part-time work at a parts quality inspection facility in the area. She also checks brake and fuel lines at a company in Manchester, but said she is in the middle of a layoff.

Sussex’s gas and food are covered, and she receives a small stipend for her participation in the research, Cederna said. But money is not the reason Sussex said she offers her time to Michigan Medicine. Her motivation is partially fueled by the initial sensation of being able to control a hand once again.