November 11, 2010

On Veterans Day: Inspiration

Necessity is the mother of invention. I have been profoundly moved over the past few months by a handful of people who have been forced to live this idiom or who have stepped up to the challenge of aiding wounded warriors.

In honor of Veterans Day, please take a moment to learn about these inspiring soldiers and inventors.

Marine Cpl. Todd A. Nicely lost all four of his limbs while serving in Afghanistan. He is “one of only three men – a soldier and two Marines – from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive an attack as a quadruple amputee.” Michael E. Ruane profiles him and his wife, Crystal, in the Washington Post today, writing that Cpl. Nicely tops “a grim hierarchy of more than 1,100 military amputees from the two conflicts, which includes 21 people who have lost three limbs, 258 who have lost two and 832 who have lost one.”

Jonathan Kuniholm lost part of his right arm while serving in Iraq. He was so unimpressed with the “rubber band on a stick” arm he was given that he set out to change how prosthetics are designed and produced, founding the Open Prosthetics Project.

One of his points resonates deeply with the principles of participatory medicine: If you ask amputees what they want, they will tell you they want functionality, not a realistic-looking hand, which is what the industry has focused on as the primary goal. Listen to his story on NPR’s Fresh Air from last November. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and many other things, has drawn inspiration from “Star Wars” to create what he calls the Luke Arm:

Hugh Herr lost both legs below the knee in a climbing accident as a teenager, but has overcome that to not only return to climbing, but to design prosthetic legs which are even better, than the ones he was born with. Here’s his personal story:

I love Herr’s spirit: “We don’t accept the world as it is; we will envision what the world should be and make it so.” I saw him speak at TEDMED, where he essentially said people aren’t disabled, technology is. Until that video is posted, please watch this excerpt of a talk he gave at another event:

I could go on & on. I admire the work being done by Peter Levin, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and champion of the Blue Button Initiative. The most compelling speaker at yesterday’s mHealth Summit (in my opinion) was Col. Ronald K. Poropatich, M.S., M.D. Deputy Director, Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. They are innovating their way out of a very difficult situation, making the best of what they have, and serving those who serve their country.

This is just my personal list, drawn from my experiences over the past few months. What have you seen that inspires you regarding veterans, technology, and health? Please post in the comments on e-patients.net.