Jayden Marois was only six years old when he had both forearms amputated after an accident. Even though his rehabilitation was long, his parents, Clément Marois and Judy Potvin kept a positive attitude. It allowed their son to feel like a child capable of accomplishing anything he wanted.
Once his limbs healed, he got silicone prostheses and became familiar with their use. However, their functions were limited. Still, Jayden learned to use them in remarkable ways.
Over the years, prosthetic technology evolved, and at the age of 12, he received his first myoelectric prostheses. With practice and effort, he mentally recreated the muscle stimulation necessary for his prostheses to detect the signal that allowed them to respond to his commands.
Jayden was happy. He was getting closer to almost complete autonomy.
Yet, during all these years, he had felt the presence of his forearms and hands. Science calls this presence phantom limbs.
He hadn't even told his parents about it. At night in bed, he moved his arms freely. His phantom forearms and hands responded to his every command. When wearing his prostheses, he sometimes felt as if they were squeezing his limbs. It wasn't a big deal. It was just an occasional discomfort.
His most significant handicap was not the absence of his arms but the absence of touch. This is because there are many sensory connections between the brain and the hands.
He had read many science books about the brain. So when he found out about Penfield's homunculus, it changed his understanding of the world. Mostly his knowledge of his world.
The homunculus shows how intensely the sensory connections between the brain and hands outnumber the rest. Jayden drew it very often through his prosthesis but also in his mind. He could not understand why, but it was vital to him.
He wanted to be able to depict what touching was like. But unfortunately, for all the people around him, this sense was something they took for granted and paid very little attention to.
He observed how people expressed themselves with their hands, shared their emotions with them, and touched each other. However, it wasn't until he was 16 years old that he realized that because of this sensory disability, emotionally, he was also different from others.
He could not express himself, touch, feel or experience emotions with his hands. So he knew he was emotionally handicapped. Nevertheless, he was passionate about studying neuroscience, the brain, the nervous system, and the biology of emotions.
Even at this young age, he was already manipulating scientific concepts that many university students had difficulty grasping. He also followed the evolution of prosthetics.
Then came the day when the first sensory myoelectric prostheses were tested. As soon as he read about it, he understood the importance of this scientific breakthrough and the impact it could have on him.
Dr. Robert Miller was on the cutting edge of scientific research in this area. Jayden, at the age of 18, applied to become a medical student at the university where he taught. He wrote a letter, or rather a mini-thesis, to Dr. Miller about his observations, studies, and personal discoveries in this field.
He also shot a video in which he told him about his life and detailed the concept of emotions...The researcher was charmed by the intelligence, maturity, and energy of this young man who fought to find his autonomy.
Jayden began studying medicine and became one of Dr. Miller's research assistants. Soon their relationship changed. They both spent many hours together in the lab. Dr. Miller wanted to understand Jayden's life, thoughts, and emotions. This was new knowledge that would help him advance his research.
As the months went by, Jayden became more than just an incredibly gifted student to him. Instead, he saw him as a son in some ways. Their discussions about the importance of touch led Dr. Miller to perfect the sensory system of his prosthetics.
It wasn't just allowing the person's brain to receive the sensations from the prostheses but interpreting them and giving them meaning. Could he do better than Mother Nature had done with humans? He thought so. This is what he was able to accomplish. Of course, he did not expect it, but his joy came not from the accomplishment itself but from the fact that he would give his favorite student the chance to be the first to use them.
When Dr. Miller told him the news, Jayden jumped up and down like a madman in the lab. Then, he would stop, slap his thighs, and start jumping again, repeating, "This is amazing...this is just amazing." The smile on the researcher's face spoke volumes about the happiness he felt at that moment.
The prosthesis was transplanted 17 days later.
After the surgery, Miller didn't want to take anything lightly. He wanted Jayden to undergo numerous neurological, physiological, and psychological evaluations.
Dr. Miller reviewed the transplant's many steps with the surgeons involved in the procedure. He did not want to leave anything to chance. At this point, the man was thinking more about Jayden than the impact this incredible achievement would have on his career. He cared about Jayden more than he cared about anyone or anything else.
One night, when he was home alone... In fact, he had always been alone. He had dedicated his life to his career. Now 57, Jayden's arrival in his life had made him realize that there could be more important things. He did not regret his life choice. However, at that moment, he wanted to take this opportunity to give Jayden what he could not give anyone else.
The prosthesis transplant went perfectly. After the procedure, Dr. Miller was already at his bedside, waiting for him to wake up. The first person Jayden saw was Dr. Miller's smiling face when he woke up. He was holding his hands behind his back.
He waited until he was fully awake before he touched him. "How are you doing, kid?" he asked.
"I think everything's okay," Jayden replied.
"Don't move around too much right now. Just take time to recover."
Despite Dr. Miller's instructions, Jayden lifted his head and looked to either side of his body. Finally, he rested his head heavily on the pillow and said with sobs, "It really worked."
"It really worked," Dr. Miller replied.
"It's amazing," Jayden added.
"I know," the doctor said with a smile.
Without realizing it, Jayden swung his head from left to right as if allowing his mind to accept this new reality. Still, with his hands behind his back, Dr. Miller asked, "Are you ready for the first test?"
"I'm not sure. I'm a little scared," Jayden replied.
"Don't worry, it's very simple, you don't have to do anything. Just stay calm and close your eyes."
Jayden stopped moving his head and closed his eyes. Dr. Miller gently moved his right hand in the air, slowly brought it to Jayden's robotic hand, and stopped it a few inches above his. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. He wished so badly for the first time in years that Jayden could finally feel another person's touch.
Gently, he placed his hand on Jayden's. In a split second, he saw his reaction. He lay still on his bed, not opening his eyes. He began to cry. Regaining control of himself after what seemed like an eternity to Dr. Miller, Jayden said, "You are touching my right hand."
He opened his eyes, filled with tears. He looked at Dr. Miller and then lifted his head to look at his hand. On his, he saw his mentor. Jayden slowly raised his new arm. Dr. Miller followed suit. Their fingertips touched in amazement. They understood the miracle that had occurred before their eyes.
Then began an intensive rehabilitation program. Jayden poured his heart and soul into it. He quickly mastered his prostheses and developed impressive dexterity. Looking around at the people around him, he felt that in such a short time, he had surpassed them in every way.
But he did not expect his prostheses to expand his perception of the world.
His sense of touch kept growing. Placing his fingertips on a table allowed him to feel the surrounding vibrations. He could recognize the impact of footsteps on the floor and sense the different movements of the molecules of the material it was made of.
He could feel her heartbeat and sense her emotions by touching a person's shoulder.
He could sense the photosynthesis in trees and the release of oxygen molecules by the leaves and perceive the work of the roots inside the ground.
At first, when sensory information flowed chaotically to his brain, he felt anxiety and often pain. However, he did not back down from these difficulties. He knew that by calming down and repeating the different sensory experiences he was trying, his brain would eventually organize the information and make sense of it.
Jayden and Dr. Miller spent countless hours documenting and discussing these experiences. They didn't limit themselves to the scientific aspect. Instead, Jayden shared his emotions, his feelings, his discoveries, and most importantly, how they transformed him on a human level.
A few months later, his transformation accelerated. He felt connected to his environment and the people around him without having to touch anyone or anything directly.
His perception extended far beyond what was possible to imagine. When he told Dr. Miller about this, Miller seemed concerned. "If you're scared or worried about it, I'll just reduce the effectiveness of the sensory system in your prostheses.
"No, I prefer to continue. We'll keep our regular meetings, and if there's anything that seems abnormal, then you can do that," Jayden said.
"Doesn't it already seem abnormal to you?" replied Dr. Miller.
"I'd say it's pretty super normal," Jayden replied.
The progress continued. At one point, the young man understood how to interpret the subtle vibrations emitted by a person's body to read their thoughts and understand their emotions. When he reported this new phenomenon to Dr. Miller, he said, "I can no longer judge people. I understand what they are going through and why they act the way they do. I've become forgiving."
"You didn't use to be like that?" asked Dr. Miller.
"No... I don't think so. Like everyone else, I was judgmental and critical..."
"And you like what you are becoming?"
"I'm discovering the beauty of the world. It's beautiful," Jayden replied.
"I'm happy for you," added a smiling Dr. Miller.
Jayden often spoke to his parents via video conference. Since their son had been wearing his new prostheses, their joy was inexplicable. Only they could understand. In their conversations, he would tell them only what was necessary. He avoided telling them about his new talents.
Since his transplant, he had not returned home. But, he promised to do so soon. To please them, he showed them each time how impressive his dexterity was. His parents shed tears of joy every time. They were so happy and proud of him.
Although he hesitated to call him by his first name, Dr. Miller had become his second father. Jayden could feel this man's love for him with excellent acuity and also see the innermost recesses of his soul. Jayden knew he had achieved his goal professionally, but the man wondered about his life. Then, finally, he understood that his work had led him to meet Jayden. It opened his heart and his mind in ways he couldn't imagine. Now he regretted being such a lonely man.
Jayden also felt that his mentor's heart was getting sick. He was getting old. One day, he sat on a bench in the courtyard behind the lab. He felt the environment in his usual way. But, the world took on a new dimension as he effortlessly let the sensory information enter his brain.
At this point, he wondered if he could transmit sensory information. By now, he was capturing and interpreting sensory information with an acuity unknown to humans. So he decided to try interacting with it and sharing it with others.
He also realized that he was beginning to use the term: sensory information instead of tactile information. This is because all of his senses, not just touch, had developed and combined their abilities to constantly increase his perception and knowledge of the world.
He wanted to give back in exchange for what he had received. Mainly to the man who had transformed his life. Jayden trained himself to develop the ability to transmit sensory information and interact with the information within his reach.
Around the same time, Dr. Miller asked him if he would be interested in helping write a book that would tell of their scientific advances. He said, "This will be the culmination of my career and the beginning of an amazing one for you."
So they began working on this significant project. Meanwhile, Jayden was making progress. He was reaching a level of perception of the world and an ability to exchange information with it that was beyond imagination.
One day, as Jayden sat beside Dr. Miller working on their book, he gently placed his robotic hand on his and conveyed his love for him. Feeling the intensity of that emotion throughout his body, he froze. The emptiness he had felt for so many years filled up, and he began to cry his eyes out. Never before had he been overcome with so much love.
It took several minutes before he regained control of himself. First, he awkwardly wiped his face with the sleeves of his lab coat. Then, finally, he looked at Jayden with a voice full of gratitude, "Thank you for everything... But for now, please don't touch me. You know that's much more love than a normal man can take."
Almost three years later, their scientific book, Sensation, was published. It was a worldwide success. Although it exposed the scientific advances concerning tactile information processing, the two authors took the risk of going further. They revealed to the world that science allows human beings to evolve to the point of being able to touch people's souls.
Three months later, when he had finally taken the time to visit his parents, Jayden received a call. A nurse at the hospital where their lab was located told him that Dr. Miller had been hospitalized with a heart attack. The situation was critical. He was in a coma and had little chance of waking up.
Jayden flew in that day and was allowed to see him. Unconsciously, the man had been struggling all these hours to stay alive. He did not want to die without the presence of the young man he loved so much.
Jayden approached him, both hands behind his back, and said, "I'm here now." He gently moved his hand forward and placed it on his chest.
Immediately he felt his thoughts and emotions. Jayden shared his in return. They shared their love for each other. A tear rolled down the face of the man he loved like a father.
Then, through his hand, he said, "You can go now. Everything will be fine. I promise." He exhaled one last time, and Jayden felt the life leave his body.
Then, for a few seconds, he could pick up a piece of new sensory information: the soul going to who knows where.
Their book, Sensation, made an impression on scientists worldwide and opened up new scientific horizons. He and his mentor were at the origin of this scientific revolution.
Jayden could not imagine that he would soon be involved in countless other advances.
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Drawing: Derek Lévesque
© Denis Boucher. All rights reserved, 2022