RICHLAND, WA - Dr. Lewis Zirkle, Jr. started SIGN Fracture Care International almost 20 years ago. It's an incredible non-profit organization based in eastern Washington with a worldwide reach. He'll be recognized for that work by the Department of Defense. Dr. Zirkle is set to receive an extreme honor: the U.S. Department of Defense Medal of Distinguished Public Service. The ever-humble Dr. Zirkle said he's not sure he deserves the honor but is looking forward to meeting Secretary of Defense and Richland native, James Mattis.
Oddly enough, Dr. Zirkle said he just kind of 'landed' in his career as a healer while attending Duke University.
"I went to college and three of my friends were going to medical school so I just took the same courses as them and ended up in medicine," said Dr. Zirkle.
At this point, SIGN has helped hundreds of thousands of people in more than 50 developing countries. Its technology is in hundreds of hospitals around the world.
"I think we go by our model. our model is education plus donation of implants which can implement the education and treat the poor," said Dr. Zirkle. "If you just go to a lecture, you only remember 20% but if you implement what you've learned, you'll remember 90%. I think the implants here are part of our education. but they are manufactured so they can be used in austere environments. In other words, they have power surges in developing countries. They can't use instant imaging because that's a power machine. Therefore we have to innovate ways to do that by hand."
While Dr. Zirkle officially started SIGN back in 1999, he began developing the concept much earlier... during his time as a U.S. Army Surgeon in South Vietnam. There he treated both GI's and civilians.
"I can remember several patients," said Dr. Zirkle. "One of which was a 10 year old boy who was burned by napalm. He couldn't bend his knee or straighten it so he couldn't walk. I was able to treat him and as I watched him walk away with his father when he could walk.. I felt like that was the best feeling i could have. Therefore I wanted to do that in the future but I wanted to do it effectively."
He saw firsthand how different being a doctor is in developing countries.
"Fractures in other countries are often high-energy fractures," said Dr. Zirkle. "They often are due to road traffic accidents. Therefore they're often different kinds of fractures that we don't often see here. Also, the developing world has a lot of conflict and we're in all the conflict areas like Iraq and Afghanistan and South Sudan. Those are blast injuries. We don't see much of that here. Of course, we have to know how to treat them and our surgeons there in those countries lead the way and make many innovations which we adopt through the whole SIGN family."