Skip to content

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Hugh Herr

WebMD Feature from "Esquire" Magazine

By Charles P. Pierce

Esquire Magazine Logo

You can barely hear him over the hum of the machines, a low thrumming that is general throughout the halls and laboratories of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You have to lean forward a little when Hugh Herr talks about the arms and legs that he makes here in the MIT Media Lab, during a time in which deceitful politics and bloody bungling have turned the United States into a boom market for prosthetics. Improvements in body armor protect the torso but do nothing for the limbs, and hundreds of Americans have now returned from the excellent adventure in Mesopotamia with less of themselves than they took over there. Which is partly why there is a sudden boom of interest in the work that Hugh Herr is doing in his quiet way in the hush of his lab, and generally in a culture in which informed awareness of prosthetics had not heretofore advanced a great distance from Captain Ahab.

"It's an interesting time in history for us," Herr says. "There's a lot of funding now for prosthetics. Over the past several years, some critical areas relative to prosthetics have matured-tissue engineering, robotics machinery, the field of neuroprostheses.

We've begun to blur the boundaries between humans and devices, and that will lead to a profound clinical effect for people with physical disabilities."

In the past six years, among its other breakthroughs, Herr's Biomechatronics Group at MIT has developed a prosthetic knee that employs adaptive technology in order to fully integrate the device into the natural functioning of the leg. The "Rheo Knee" is a singular accomplishment, and it is the best demonstration of what have come to be called "biohybrids," machines that interface closely with the human machine to which they are attached.

What Herr is aiming for is "to develop a strategy for limb replacement that is a true replacement."

That Herr's interest in the field is not purely academic is obvious from the odd angular cast of his own lower body. In 1982, he was an indifferent high school student in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who was mad for rock climbing. In fact, Herr enrolled in a local vocational school only because it left him enough free time in the day to climb. One day, he was caught in a blizzard on the slopes of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. He lost both legs below the knee to frostbite. A man named Albert Dow died trying to rescue him. After his recovery, Herr went back to climbing so enthusiastically that a national magazine did a cover story on him but concluded that he would wind up an embittered, legless man working in a machine shop. Instead, he channeled the same passion that drove his climbing into the engineering and mathematics that he taught himself during his recuperation. In part, he did so because of a debt he felt he owed to Albert Dow.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
kenneth fujioka, md
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
Home Healthcare

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner