33 Years

Today I turn 33.  I can say with certainty that this year will be the biggest and most important yet.  A lot of fantastic things are happening in our lives and we are very excited for what this year will hold.
Maura and I are happy to announce that she is pregnant and will have twins this summer!  I’ve been fortunate to do so many different things in my life but being a Father is a new experience that I am certain will be more challenging and more rewarding than all others.  We couldn’t be happier to enter this next phase of our lives and appreciate all of the support we have received thus far.

In the same vein, this will be my last blog post.  This has been a fun way to share some of the things I have been able to experience, but moving forward I do not plan to utilize this medium for communication.  I will leave the website up for a few weeks longer but will then take it down.  I will continue to use social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and will be happy to connect with any of you there.  A lot of great things are in store for this year for family, business, and community and I am so excited to share all of the things that are in the works for this coming year!!!
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Veteran’s Day

Happy Veteran’s Day!  The past two months have been a blur.

I was able to speak at the JLabs campus in Boston and Houston but wasn’t able to make it to Toronto and had to reschedule this event for the winter.  The Veteran’s crew in Houston is particularly noteworthy and I had a phenomenal time catching up with the team down there.  They have formed a networking group called Houston Veterans in Business that has has mobilized to do some great civic work, like supporting the MARSOC Foundation.  I was also able to swing by and see my grandparents and family in North Texas on the way home.

I was fortunate to see the Ride430 crew as they wrapped up another successful ride out here in Camp Pendleton.  The Ride430 team is an incredible group of patriotic Americans that have raised Millions of dollars for Veteran’s non-profit organizations.  Their founder, John Greenway, is truly inspiring and it was a great time getting to hang with this crew as they wrapped up another successful event.

derek-herrera-and-gold-medalist-brad-snyder

I went back to my USNA 10-year reunion and got to catch up with some of my favorite people.  My classmates are amazing and I found myself so fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve alongside such great people.  One truly heroic classmate of mine, Brad Snyder, just published a book about his life titled, Fire in My Eyes.  It is the true story of Brad and his recovery from losing his eyesight after an Improvised Explosive Device detonated while he was on patrol in Afghanistan.  One year after he was injured, he won a Gold Medal in swimming at the Paralympics in 2012.  In Rio this past year he not only won gold but broke a world record that previously stood for over 30 years.

derek-herrera-bob-woodruff-stand-up-for-heroes-2016

Two weeks ago I attended the annual gala for the Bob Woodruff Foundation called Stand up for Heroes.  I spoke on stage two years ago utilizing the ReWalk exoskeleton and this year was invited back to introduce Jerry Seinfeld.  Unfortunately, Maura was not able to attend and she is Jerry’s biggest fan.  Luckily, I was able to meet him backstage and he graciously signed his book for Maura.  All of the comedians, Louis CK, Jon Stewart, and Jim Gaffigan, and Bruce Springsteen were incredible.

All of the work that Bob and Lee Woodruff have done to raise awareness and funds to support Veteran’s causes is exemplary.  This year was the tenth year that they have hosted Stand up For Heroes and during this period they have helped so many people to understand what Veterans and their families endure.  Bob and Lee have gone above and beyond after Bob was injured in Iraq in 2006 and I am genuinely grateful to know them both.

derek-herrera-and-jerry-seinfeld-2016

Last week I celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Orange County with the November 10 Association.  It is always a great event and this year General Jim Mattis was the guest speaker.  He delivered a message of unity and strength saying ‘E Pluribus Unum – From many, one…’ and that the Marine Corps will continue to stand united despite any chaos that ensues during election season.  This is the calling of our Marine Corps, to stand most ready when our nation is least ready, and that there are plenty of reasons to look forward to the future of America.  Every time I get to hear General Mattis I am humbled, inspired and motivated, and I don’t think he could be more correct about the future of our great nation.

general-jim-mattis-marine-corps-ball-2016

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Summer

derek-herrera-and-herschel-woody-williams-moh

It’s been three months. What a great summer!!!  Lots of work and I was even able to squeeze in a speaking engagement for RallyPoint Kentuckiana out in Louisville.  This was a great event and I even had the pleasure of meeting MOH recipient Cpl Herschel ‘Woody’ Williams.  He was awarded the MOH for his actions on Iwo Jima in WWII.

derek-herrera-speaking-at-rally-point-kentuckiana-2x

Next week I will be traveling to Boston, Toronto and Houston to speak at the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centers known as JLabs. These centers are truly remarkable and offer a supportive environment for any early stage medical technology companies to build their products. They have many different locations and represent an important and growing trend in the MedTech community of strategics supporting early stage growth and initiatives. J&J has a goal of being the most innovative company in the world and, from what I have seen, this is clearly evident in their actions supporting entrepreneurs. If you want to come see the event they are open to the public. Check out the links below for more information:

Boston, MA – 9/20
Toronto, ON – 9/21
Houston, TX – 9/22

We also were very fortunate to participate in the HealthBox accelerator program in Los Angeles and present our product to key leaders at UCLA, USC, and the Henry Mayo Clinic. We learned quite a bit and made great connections as we have moved forward to build our business.

We have been making significant progress on building the Connected Catheter. This progress was a direct result of our people and I can’t say enough about the work Stephen, our summer intern from Scotland, and Linh, our new engineer, have done. Stephen was sponsored by the QB3 Rosenman Institute, and he got to spend a summer in America helping us design a medical device. He was an incredible addition for the summer and I can’t say enough positive things about the program he was a part of. If you know of any early stage tech companies looking for top-quality talent you should apply to be a part of the program.

Most of this summer was focused on work. I have continued to magnify by subtracting and have tried to remain even more focused on the product and company I want to radically grow. Currently, I am more confident than ever that we can revolutionize the way people live with Neurogenic Bladder and Urinary Incontinence.

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Life is Good

The past year has been remarkable!  Over the past year, I have consistently worked to narrow my focus and support my new mission in life, radically changing the way people live with Spinal Injury.
Derek Rolling through Sequoia Forest @2x

In all respects, I have been incredibly fortunate.  After graduating from business school at UCLA I started Spinal Singularity.  We have been fortunate enough to win some competitions and raise the necessary funds to advance our cause.  One highlight was that we were selected to participate in YCombinator, an early stage tech accelerator.  This was a truly transformative experience for me as an entrepreneur and for our company in it’s earliest stages.

So many positive things have happened in my life over the past four years and when I reflect on this journey I am grateful.  Every day I am humbled by memories and legacies of heroes that inspire me to continue moving forward.  Every day I am fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who support me in all that I do.  This is what inspires me to take action.  This is why I work to be better every day.  To be the best husband, family member, entrepreneur, and friend that I can be.

We have some big things planned for this coming year.  This day is special, just like every other, because each day brings new challenges, new journeys, and most importantly, opportunity.  It is good to be alive!

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FUNDING GOAL REACHED!!!

Because of the generosity of so many supporters, Spinal Singularity was able to raise over $50k in funds in under two months.  The team and I are absolutely humbled and inspired as we move forward to execute our business plan.  This success has motivated us to work even harder to accomplish our mission and that is the only way we will be able to repay you.

THANK YOU!!

I also spent some time in DC.  I was able to visit with Secretary ‘Bob’ at the VA Office.  He was very nice and talked with me for a little over an hour on a Friday afternoon.  We discussed a variety of topics and I left feeling like he was working diligently to improve the environment at the VA (for employees and Veterans alike).  His record is impressive and I think he is well-suited to handle the unique challenges the VA is currently facing.
Derek Herrera meeting with Secretary Bob McDonald VA @2x
The reason I was in DC was to film an acceptance award for the Paralyzed Veteran’s of America (PVA) UnstoppABLE awards.  This year I was honored with the UnstoppABLE award but was unable to attend.  The PVA has been an incredible organization that I am honored to support.  Currently, I serve as an alternate member on the board of their Research Foundation where they provide a little over $1M in grants to researchers for Spinal Cord Injury and Disease every year.

I was unable to accept the UnstoppABLE award in person because that same day I had to be in San Diego for the conclusion of the MedTech Innovator program that I participated in this Summer.  The event concluded at the AdvaMed Medical Device Conference and our team was awarded the Johnson and Johnson JLabs Innovation Award for free laboratory space.
Derek Herrera MedTech Innovator Semi Finalist @2x
After AdvaMed I travelled to Chicago to attend the Annual Meeting for the North American Spine Society.  I was invited on behalf of their public education arm the North American Spine Foundation.  This organization is working to increase awareness about spine-related disability and challenging providers and innovators to improve the way people with spinal injuries are cared for and rehabilitated.  It was an impressive conference and I was fortunate to meet so many professionals all focused on spinal issues.

I then went to New York City where I attended the annual fundraising gala for the headstrong project.  This non-profit organization is doing some remarkable work to expand access to mental health services for any Veterans.  They have partnered with top-notch medical professionals that will respond to any Veteran seeking help within hours to get them the care they need.  The event was held at One World Trade Center and was incredible.  It is truly inspiring to see other Veterans take action to solve issues and problems we experience and I am honored to know a few of the people running the headstrong project.

Lastly, I was able to complete the Marine Corps Marathon this weekend on my handcycle.  It was raining throughout the whole race but Maura and I had a great weekend in DC.

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Happy Labor Day!

I hope you all have had a great Summer and are enjoying the Labor Day weekend!!  It has been a phenomenal few months and has flown by.

Recently, I announced the launch of our company Spinal Singularity.  Spinal Singularity is a startup that designs connected medical devices to improve the quality of life for people with Spinal Cord Injury and Disease (SCI/D).  This is something I have been working on for the past year and am now pursuing this endeavor full-time!  To jumpstart our growth, we created an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise money and finalize our prototype.  All money raised will go directly to the costs of building our prototype (not for employee salaries or any other frivolous means).

The product we are building is called the Connected Catheter™.  This product will revolutionize the way millions of Americans deal with Urinary Incontinence and Neurogenic Bladder (like me).  This is the same concept that we won first place in the UCLA Business Plan Competition with and the UCLA Engineering Venture Competition with.  To learn more please check out our IndieGoGo campaign and help us spread the word.

Derek Herrera WSGR Medical Device Conference Presentation @2x

June and July were busy.  I had the opportunity to present Spinal Singularity on stage at the WSGR Medical Device Conference in San Francisco as a part of the MedTech Innovator accelerator program.  We had a great experience there and learned a lot from some highly experienced industry professionals.

I also had the opportunity to travel to China and complete our final course for the UCLA Executive MBA program.  I had virtually no knowledge of the intricate and complex political/economic landscape there before this course but walked away with a totally renewed sense of appreciation for the reality of what is happening there.  I have way too many questions to answer to post any information in this forum, but suffice it to say that China will continue to play a very important role in America’s future for a long time.

Derek Herrera Wheelchair Mutianyu Great Wall of China @2x

When our class went to visit the Great Wall of China I knew that there would be very little accommodations for wheelchair accessibility.  I had planned to visit the base of the wall and spend some time hanging out with my friends even though I wouldn’t be able to ascend the wall.  Upon arrival to the wall we were quickly greeted by four men who offered to push/carry me up the wall for a reasonably small fare.  After negotiating this price, the men pushed and carried me up the wall.  This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Derek Herrera Wheelchair Mutianyu Great Wall China @2x

In the last week of July we completed our graduation ceremony at UCLA.  It was a lot of fun and Maura and I had a great time celebrating with family.  I’ve found that I often get pre-occupied on what is happening in the future and have difficulty enjoying the present.  When I graduated from the Naval Academy I was intently focused on the next steps I had to take to become a good Marine Officer, and although I tried hard to relax and enjoy this event I kept finding my thoughts returning the the next steps I had to accomplish to become a successful entrepreneur.  I think I realize the negative side to this and my ability to tune out future concerns while focusing on the present is something I continue to work on.

Derek Herrera Graduation UCLA EMBA 2015 @2x

In the past month I was able to travel a bit more to spread the word about what we are doing at Spinal Singularity and went to Silicon Valley, Boston, Maine, and Florida for meetings and presentations.  One of the most effective trips I made was to the Military Health Science Research Symposium in Florida.  There we presented some of our work during the poster session and were able to meet with many of the leading researchers supporting the US Military Health system.  It was great to see the machine mobilized to try and provide the best quality care to any injured service-members.  As someone relatively new to this arena, I only found one critical deficit that I wished would have been addressed.  This deficit was the coordination of DOD efforts with the VA.  I met very few (if any) VA employees at this session and although I am not an expert in any regards, as a user of the system, I would have preferred to see some level of coordination or support from the VA.  Regardless, the machine continues to march along and I continue to try to influence it for the better in any way possible.
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Thank You

Today is a day just like most others. I woke up, did some work around the house and am getting ready for another week trying to keep the momentum with my startup moving. The only difference is the significance of what happened three years ago and that I have the opportunity to reflect and thank everyone who has sacrificed, and continues to sacrifice, to support me.

Exactly three years ago I was confronted with a situation that altered my life in many ways. Physically, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally. In most respects, I would say that getting shot and paralyzed is a wholly negative event. Conversely, the path I have traveled in the past three years has been absolutely incredible.

I am not the least bit sad, bitter, or angry. I feel content, excited, and anxious because I still have the opportunity to achieve goals I have set for myself. Every day is an opportunity for me to do something lasting and meaningful. Every day I think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice and no longer have the opportunities that I do. The past few years have not been easy, but I have found a new cause that I am as passionate about pursuing as I was while leading Marines and Sailors in the Special Operations Community. I get up every day excited. I get out of bed knowing the problems I am trying to solve and the impact I hope to have on people’s lives.

I have this opportunity because of everyone who helped me become a Marine Special Operations Officer, the men who saved my life exactly three years ago by risking their lives to save mine, and those who have been there to support me every step of the way since I was injured.

There are too many people to thank individually because I have been fortunate to meet so many people who have had such a positive impact on my life. It is because of you that I am alive and it is because of you that I continue to fight every day to create positive change. Thank you!

Captain Derek Herrera Tactical Flag Afghanistan @2x

 

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Magnify by Subtracting

This is a scientific term, referring to the field of view on a microscope.  The more an image is magnified, the smaller the field of view becomes.  The object can be seen in very fine detail and the viewer becomes oblivious to anything in the periphery.  This magnified view has also made the object much larger.
I recently heard someone use this term to describe Entrepreneurs and thought it highly accurate.  They explained that there are people who will always have 10 irons in the fire and constantly be chasing something new and exciting.  These kinds of people are great at starting things but not always at executing and seeing things through to the finish.
The other end of the spectrum are people who are laser-focused on doing one thing.  They are completely content to do one thing for their entire lives and master that craft.  They rarely start new things but always work incredibly hard to execute a plan or see a project someone started through to completion.
After understanding this concept, I realized that I no longer want to have multiple irons in the fire.  I have found the one pursuit that I am willing to pursue at the cost of any others and have put nearly all other activity on hold until I achieve success in this endeavor.  I have gradually subtracted more and more activities from my life so that I can try to magnify and grow the one project I am willing to commit to indefinitely.  It feels great to have that sense of purpose and clarity in my life and has caused me to get up every day excited to go to work.
Spinal Singularity - UCLA Knapp Business Plan Competition @2x
This opportunity is the startup company I have been working on called Spinal Singularity.  Our company designs medical devices to improve the quality of life for people like me, with Spinal Cord Injury and Disease.  In the past few months we have made significant progress and won two Venture Competitions at UCLA.  We will launch a fundraising campaign in Mid-July to raise the seed money necessary to continue developing our first product (a technologically-advanced solution for neurogenic bladder).  If you are interested in learning more please email me.
A lot has happened since I last posted.  Many good things and some bad.
Marine Raiders killed in helicopter crash MARSOC
One of the most terrible things was when seven MARSOC Marines (and 4 Army National Guardsmen).  I knew the Team Commander who was leading the mission.  His name was Ford Shaw.  Ford was a phenomenal human being.  We both graduated from the Naval Academy in 2006 and went through Basic Officer Training and Infantry Officer Training together at Quantico, VA.  He was always able to crack jokes in the worst of conditions and cheer everyone up, motivating us to continue in the face of adversity. Ford was just an incredible Marine leader and was highly proficient in all aspects of our profession.  The other men killed in the accident were equally as impressive, although I never had the pleasure of meeting them because they were stationed in NC.  More can be read about them in this article from the Washington Post.
As a board member for the MARSOC Foundation, these are the types of crises that I continue to raise money for.  When an incident like this takes place, there are certain benefits provided for by the government.  In nearly every situation there are things that the injured service-member or his/her family will need that the government is unable to support (because they are constrained by congressional law).  This is why I am still actively seeking donations to support the MARSOC Foundation.  If you or any one you know are interested in learning more about how you can help in this effort, please email me and I will personally explain how you can help.  Please remember that regardless of what you hear about in the news and media outlets, there will ALWAYS be service-members across the world who are sacrificing to protect this nation.  As long as MARSOC exists, I will continue to support the community by raising funds for the MARSOC Foundation.
I was invited to share my story at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference in Washington DC in early March.  I had a great time meeting all of the people at the conference and it was a fantastic venue.  This was the first experience I have had with AIPAC and really enjoyed the opportunity to see so many people from all over the world come together to demonstrate support for Israel.
I spent two weeks conducting primary research for our project at Business School.  It was a great time and I had a very enjoyable trip.  I went with three of my classmates and we spent two weeks in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and the Serengeti.  This was my first trip to Africa outside of Djibouti, and it was a very good time.
Maura graduated from her Master’s program and we traveled to England for her graduation.  We then went to Italy for vacation for a few days before heading home.
I recently started an official Facebook page.  Please share this with anyone you think would be interested in following my journey.  I’ll be headed to China next month for our class field trip and then graduate from school at the end of July.
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DC – NYC

It’s been two months since I have posted. This is the longest time I have had between posts and have been procrastinating so that I could prioritize other things that have kept me busy over the past couple of months. There have been some highs and lows but, on average, many more highs than lows.

I started spending more time at the JF Shea Center for Therapeutic Riding. This center is an organization in Orange County, very close to our house, where I go and ride a horse named ‘Braveheart’ for an hour each week. It is a lot of fun and the staff there is incredibly professional. There are some detailed studies about how Hippotherapy affects people with Spinal Cord Injury and Disease (SCI/D) and it certainly helps me with spasticity, pain management and exercise. I highly recommend it for anyone out there and I have heard there are many places to pursue this type of therapy across the country.

I have been exploring the option of utilizing an implanted Baclofen pump that provides a targeted dose of Baclofen intrathecally to the Spinal Cord. There are a lot of benefits associated with the pump, when compared to using the medication orally, and in order to confirm that I would respond to the drug in this manner I had to go in for a lumbar puncture. The procedure went well for the first few hours and I felt great, but very quickly after I left the hospital I started getting headaches, nausea and vertigo. As it turns out, a very small percentage of the population who get lumbar punctures will not heal quickly and this can result in a leak of Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF). This was pretty terrible timing for me and I had to miss some classes to go back in and do another procedure to fix the leak. The procedure worked and I am back to fighting strength.  Ironically, one of the classes I am taking is a Medical Technology Innovation class and the project I was assigned to research was ‘Post-Operative Monitoring of CSF.’  I would like to believe that my aptly timed personal experience with this issue helped me in the classroom on my assignment, but can’t be certain.

In December I made the decision to focus my efforts at becoming an entrepreneur in the Medical Device Industry. I have been developing ideas for some time now and think that they have the potential to make a difference in the quality of life for people with SCI/D someday. After I retired from the Military in November, I started pursuing opportunities to prepare myself for this challenge.

I recently started working part-time with a Medical Device startup called Neural Analytics.  At Neural Analytics we are developing a non-invasive device that will quantify the measurement of mild and moderate TBI. I was fortunate enough to meet the CEO of this company through the UCLA network and have been supporting their growth, while learning a tremendous amount about how to start and run a company in this industry. Most recently, I have been facilitating operations for the company and assisting with strategy. The team is absolutely phenomenal and I am learning new things everyday from these intelligent entrepreneurs.

Today, I landed in Washington DC where I will be all week for business and other engagements. Primarily, I came here to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Annual Policy Conference. Tomorrow night I will be delivering a short speech at the general session. I am honored to share the stage here with many other incredible speakers who are doing phenomenal things, both in the US and abroad.

Lastly, I have decided to close my FB account. I have created an official FB fan page, that I will continue to update, but will be deactivating my personal account in exactly seven days. If you feel so inclined, please share my new page with anyone you think may be interested. I will also continue to update my twitter and instagram feeds.

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Happy New Year!

Herrera Family Christmas Picture 2014 wallpaper @2x

It’s been a great year! 2014 has flown by and Maura and I are ready for an exciting 2015.

Thanksgiving went well. We had an incredible spread to celebrate in our new home thanks to my wife and her parents. During my retirement ceremony, some people asked me about an article I published in the Union Tribune San Diego newspaper last Thanksgiving and some of the things I wrote. Looking back on this article, I continue to find gratitude for the same things in my life and still believe that

‘Every day is a choice to live, love, inspire, honor the fallen, make the world a better place and walk in the footsteps of giants.’

I spent most of December relaxing and catching up with family. I took two trips this month, one back to Delaware at Christmas and one to Baltimore for the Army-Navy Football game. The football game was a lot of fun and I was hosted by one of my classmates from school. I also got to catch up with a number of my classmates and friends at the game, and Navy won, so it was a phenomenal day.

Army Navy Football Game 2014 Derek Herrera @2x

As the year has come to a close I have taken time to reflect on how this year went and all that I have been fortunate enough to achieve. I can say that my retirement from the Marine Corps was, by far, the highlight of the year. This was the most meaningful event for me because it was an opportunity to connect with so many people that have done so much for me in one event at one time. It truly was an experience I will never forget because of all of the incredible people involved.

Although I am not certain exactly what my future will hold, I am not anxious or concerned by this. I know there are many opportunities available where I can positively impact the people, organizations and society I care so much about. This is what motivates and inspires me to take action, and do my best to honor those who have sacrificed for me, by living life in a way that would make them proud.

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