Live Long and Master Aging podcast



Living beyond the battlefield and building medical devices

Derek Herrera: Founder, Spinal Singularity

When Captain Derek Herrera was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan his life was forever changed. Paralysed from the chest down, he left the military to embark on a new career in medical technology.  He devoured the scientific literature to try to find solutions to the chronic disabilities he faced. One problem, neurogenic bladder dysfunction – an inability to control the bladder – mirrored the difficulties faced by millions of people with spinal injuries and other conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Cpt. Herrera set up a company, Spinal Singularity, and working with doctors, engineers and potential users, he has developed a new device, known as the Connected Catheter, which could significantly improve the lives of sufferers.  In this interview with Peter Bowes, Cpt. Herrera describes the dramatic moment when his life was almost taken away; how he reinvented himself as an entrepreneur and built a company to change the way medical devices are developed.


Connect with Derek: Website | LinkedIn | Spinal Singularity | Facebook | Twitter

In this episode we learn about:

  • How Cpt. Herrera went from being a “barrel chested freedom fighter” to chronically disabled and wheel-chair bound, when he was shot in Afghanistan.
“When your life is threatened and you’re not certain that you will survive those instances, a lot of different things come through your mind and time seems to slow down.”
  • Embracing exoskeleton technology
“It’s the only way that someone like myself who’s completely paralyzed can stand walk…truly amazing in my mind and life-changing emotionally, psychologically and physically.”
  • Building on military discipline and culture to pursue a new career in medical devices.
  • How personal disabilities – including an inability to control his bladder – led to Cpt. Herrera to develop a new type of catheter.
  • How the connected catheter, an electronic device, could prove to be a life-changing advance for people with chronic bladder problems.
  • Current catheterization techniques involve multiple catheters being used every day – the connected catheter can stay in place for up to 29 days.
“I found that that was horribly inadequate and as someone who is now 34 years old, and has hopefully a long life ahead of me, decided to try to solve that problem and create something that would radically improve the quality of life for users.”
  • The connected catheter could help people with multiple conditions – from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to traumatic brain injuries and age-related prostate problems.
  • The philosophy of stoicism – focussing on “what you can control and not on what you can’t.”
  • The importance of the “refuge of the mind.”

“I have a choice. I have an opportunity everyday that I wake up, in every situation, and I can choose to either take advantage of the gifts I’ve been given in the opportunities that are placed before me – or not.”

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