Tiffany’s Story

“When I see people who are going through [the pain], my heart breaks, and I think, you don’t have to.”


Tiffany's Story

A snorkeling excursion became a life-changing event for Tiffany Johnson. In June 2017, the young mother of three was exploring a reef while on vacation in the Bahamas. As she was treading water, she felt a tug on her arm and found herself eye-to-eye with a shark. The shark bit her once on the shoulder and again on her right arm, severing it just below the elbow.

Tiffany underwent emergency surgery in the Bahamas. She was then flown to her hometown of Charlotte, NC, where she had a second exploratory surgery.

As luck would have it, two surgeons who specialized in targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery were located in Charlotte. They took her case directly and recommended TMR surgery to speed her recovery and to prevent a lifetime of post-amputation pain.

“I thought, this was a miracle and a blessing.” Within a week, Tiffany had three surgeries – the original amputation in the Bahamas, the exploratory surgery back home in Charlotte, and the TMR surgery at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center. “I was on the fast track,” she said.

Pre-emptive Measures

Pre-emptive measure

Unlike other amputees who live longer-term with pain before receiving TMR, Tiffany was able to have TMR surgery pre-emptively. She received an “acute TMR” surgery which is one that is performed at or near the time of the amputation.

That’s not to say that Tiffany didn’t experience pain, but it was relatively short-lived. She said it took about 3 to 4 months for the pain to subside and 6 months before she was off all pain meds.

“There was an adjustment period,” she said. “My nerves were trying to figure out what the heck was going on — they were severed and now reattached. They told me that it would be a while for the pain to taper off, and sure enough, it progressively did. But there were times when my [phantom] wrist felt like it was being pulled back and broken — like my fingers were on fire – weird stuff.”

The fact that the pain was affecting phantom limbs was the most frustrating aspect of the pain, according to Tiffany. “It was frustrating because there was nothing you could do – you couldn’t rub it because there was nothing there to rub. That alone was maddening on top of the pain.”

Intuitive Prosthetic Control

Intuitive prosthetic control

Once Tiffany’s pain was gone, she could focus on adapting to her new advanced prosthetic.

“Another amazing benefit of TMR is being able to control my prosthetic intuitively,” she said. “It’s not like I have to think about another motion, which is what it would have been like if I hadn’t had TMR. It would have been a bigger learning curve.

“If I think, grip on my right side, it responds to that thought because that’s what the nerves are doing. At first, it was weird because how do you think ‘grip’?” Tiffany compared the learning process to when a baby first discovers their hands. “It’s almost like you’re reverting back to that stage of your body’s learning.”

Tiffany’s prosthetic has a hand, and recently it was fitted with an additional hook to help with fine motor control. “I’m a new leftie. Writing was very difficult. I felt like I was in kindergarten with my daughter.”

Even if an amputee is not considering a prosthetic, Tiffany would wholeheartedly endorse TMR surgery.

“Knowing the pain I experienced, even though it wasn’t long term, I couldn’t imagine living like that the rest of my life. When I see people who are going through [the pain], my heart breaks, and I think, you don’t have to.”

Tiffany has established a ministry ( to spread her optimistic message of faith, hope and renewal. “My heart is to serve, she said.”

Each story depicts a unique individual experience and does not provide any indication, guide, warranty, or guarantee as to the response other people may have to the TMR procedure.

TMR is not a treatment option for patients with spinal cord injuries, brachial plexus injuries, or who are generally not healthy enough for surgery. The procedure does present typical risks of surgery. Your physician will help you determine whether TMR is right for you.

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