This Former Marine Raider Commander Has a New Mission in Urology

derek herrera
This Former Marine Raider Is a Urology OperativeMHUS Nov 2022 PICK UP - Hearst Owned

Roughly one in five of us live with some form of what’s usually called ‘a disability’. But difference is not weakness – in fitness, work or life. MH spoke to five men about how the things that once held them back have ultimately unleashed their potential.

On 14 June 2012, I led a small team to conduct an ambush patrol in Afghanistan and we came under heavy fire. I was shot through my left shoulder and the bullet caused a bit of damage on its way to my spine. I have a spinal-cord injury and am paralysed from the chest down. One of the major problems for people like me is that you can’t empty your bladder without using catheters, and that the bladder becomes spastic and overactive.

Personally, I went from planning and leading some of the most challenging special operations in the world to – in an instant – the total opposite end of the spectrum, where I have anxiety any time I go out with friends and drink a beer, hoping that I don’t piss myself. But after I put my ego and self-doubt aside, I realised that so many others have some serious trials and tribulations. If you live long enough, you will be challenged. The way you respond is the true measure of your character.

I decided to go to business school. In March 2021, I founded Bright Uro to develop the next generation of diagnostic devices for urology. We’re using tech developed at the Cleveland Clinic to create the first wireless, catheter-free method to help diagnose lower urinary tract symptoms. The field of urodynamics hasn’t changed in nearly 50 years. Ultimately, this will help millions of people dealing with incontinence or other bladder issues.

I have always been motivated by service and helping others. Bladder function is one of the most intimate and personal bodily functions. Helping someone regain control over something they thought was lost forever motivates me to push forwards through any obstacles we may face.’ — As told to Kevin Swan

Herrera’s Mantras

‘Adversity Is Your Asset’

John Wooden’s famous maxim helped Herrera think about how to inspire positive change.

‘Calm Breeds Calm’

‘In all aspects of life, the example you set is contagious and will influence others,’ he says. ‘Some of the best Marines I have ever served with taught me this, and it was a very important measure of the effectiveness of members of our team.’

‘You Can Learn Something From Everyone You Meet’

‘In the special-operations community, we deploy to foreign countries and work with people from all walks of life. Without this skill, ego gets in the way and results in a significant reduction in the chances for success.’

‘Every Day Is a Choice’

‘While I was dealing with [my injury], three Marines I served with were killed in Afghanistan,’ Herrera says. ‘That makes it nearly impossible to feel sorry for myself. Every day, I choose to take advantage of the opportunities I have and live life to the fullest.’

A version of this article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Men's Health.

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