Health: Helpless Hands

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Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3 and The CW Philly 57’s Emmy Award-win...
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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s a disturbing condition with no cure, forcing sufferers to physically do battle with their own bodies. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on what’s being called “helpless hands.”

Karen Byrne is slapping herself, but it’s not on purpose. She can’t control her hand.

“It’s like a small child that’s going to do all the bad things,” says Karen.

James Cooke has the same thing. It’s a very unusual condition, where they can’t control one of their hands.

“My left hand has a mind of its own,” says James.

“I would make a telephone call and this hand would hang up the phone,” explains Karen.

James and Karen suffer from a medical syndrome known as Alien Hand.

“As the right hand is bringing food to their mouth, the left hand is pushing it away,” says James.

“I had a patient began doing things like grabbing at people’s clothes, one day she grabbed at my pants,” says Dr. Ihtsham Haq, a neurologist. He studies Alien Hand Syndrome and says it’s as though one half of the brain doesn’t know what the other half is doing, so there’s a conflict between the two hemispheres.

“The connections between the two halves of the brain are damaged in some way, so what that does is allow your brain to kind of become almost two independent people,” Dr. Haq explains.

James tries to will his alien hand to put just two fingers up, but the hand won’t allow him to do it.

“Luckily, I haven’t smacked any big guys yet,” jokes James.

“It’s frightening to people, and I don’t want to scare people,” admits Karen.

Treatments for Alien Hand Syndrome are limited.

For James and Karen, the condition is a side effect of brain surgeries. Doctors say it can also be the result of traumatic brain injury, stroke or even dementia.

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