m a r k a n d e y a

Feel Good Friday

Posted by Brian on January 20, 2006

Every year in Seattle, an event know as the Jefferson Awards is held. This ceremony offers awards to upstanding citizens in Washington State in recognition of “special dedication, sacrifices and significant accomplishments of individuals in service to others.” One of the finalists this year is a Dr. Lewis Zirkle:

It came as a sobering awakening.

For years after he served as commander of a mobile Army hospital during the Vietnam War, Dr. Lewis Zirkle had volunteered to train orthopedic surgeons in Vietnam and Indonesia.

But in 1990, he stood in a hospital ward in Vietnam and asked how long a man had been lying in a bed with a broken leg.

“Three years,” came the reply.

Zirkle, an orthopedic surgeon from Richland, realized that all the training he’d given meant little if the doctors didn’t have the proper equipment. Without rods and screws to set the bone in place, the doctors were putting their patients into traction.

Broken bones often did not heal properly. Infections were common. A broken leg could mean amputation.

“I felt like everything I’d done was for naught,” he recalled.

Zirkle, 64, is being honored with a Jefferson Award for taking action, and as a result allowing thousands around the world to walk.

He tried to get orthopedic medical supply manufacturers to donate equipment to hospitals in developing countries. But when they offered incomplete sets of older equipment, he started a non-profit company called Surgical Implant Generation Network, or SIGN, to manufacture the rods and screws out of a plant in Richland. The company, supported by private and corporate donations, sends them free to nearly 100 hospitals in 37 countries. Zirkle goes to the hospitals to train surgeons on using the equipment. Those surgeons train others. Thus far, the company has made 13,200 operations possible.

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