"From that experience," he says, "because of Albert Dow, I felt compelled to make the best of it."
At the beginning, his work dealt primarily with elderly patients, most of whom had lost limbs to diabetes. Now, though, Herr's work is partially funded through the Veterans Administration.
"At Walter Reed you see all these young guys who are in top physical shape and who are very motivated," he says. "We're looking at how we can build limbs that are more robust, that don't break as easily, and that allow faster locomotion." Some of Herr's patients already have brought his prostheses back to the war zone with them.
"There's an odd dialogue in this world," he muses. "You say things like, ‘Well, I forgot my foot,' and it doesn't compute for some people." Recently Herr developed a prosthesis that suits him.
It is a long, slender rod connected to something that looks very much like a tiny stock-car engine atop a flat artificial foot. With a small smile, Hugh Herr walks across the quiet laboratory over to where his new ankle is.