Lewis G. Zirkle, MD, Receives Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, Presented by Secretary of Defense James Mattis

Dr. Lewis G. Zirkle has been awarded the US Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. This is the highest honorary award presented by the Secretary of Defense to non-career Federal employees, private citizens, and foreign nationals. United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a native of Richland, presented the medal to Dr. Zirkle at a ceremony on February 26 in Richland, WA.

“Dr. Lewis G. Zirkle is recognized for distinguished public service for his continuing dedication to provide the injured poor around the world with the ability and the freedom to walk again. While serving the Nation during the Vietnam War, Dr. Zirkle was first inspired to help his overseas counterparts bridge the gap and create equitable orthopaedic treatment for citizens of impoverished nations,” Mattis said. “The distinctive accomplishments of Dr. Zirkle and his spirit and commitment in defending and caring for his fellowmen reflect great credit upon himself and the Department of Defense.”

Dr. Zirkle became aware of the plight of patients in developing countries while serving as an orthopaedic surgeon for the US Army in the Vietnam war. Once he returned from duty and began his private practice in Richland, WA, he returned to Vietnam and Indonesia regularly, to treat patients and teach local orthopaedic surgeons.

On one of his trips to Indonesia, he found a man with a fractured femur who had laid in traction for three years. Dr. Zirkle had taught the local surgeons how to help the man, but they did not have the right equipment to perform the surgery. In that sentinel moment, Dr. Zirkle made it his life mission to educate surgeons in developing countries and equip them with the right orthopaedic tools, so can provide timely and effective surgery to their impoverished patients.

“I just have to say, Dr. Zirkle, that you’re a part of the inspiration,” said Secretary Mattis. “You’re part of the reason America will stay a great country because you prove we’re a very, very good country. We’re obviously proud in the Department of Defense, too, to say that your unfailing sense of kindness and purpose grew out of the traumas of war.”

“I accept this award on behalf of the SIGN family because all of you have helped, all of the surgeons overseas have contributed, and I’m very honored to have the chance to work with you,” Dr. Zirkle said in his acceptance speech.

SIGN Fracture Care International, founded in 1999 by Dr. Zirkle, provides orthopaedic education to surgeons from developing countries and donates the instruments and implants needed to heal broken bones. SIGN Equipment is designed and manufactured in Richland. The equipment is engineered for use in developing countries, and does not require the use of expensive live-view x-ray machines, or even electricity, to perform successful surgery. SIGN Surgeons have healed more than 210,000 patients in 50 countries.

SIGN Surgery allows a patient to return home in a few days and return to work in a few weeks, rather than lying in traction in a hospital bed for a few months. For people who depend on their limbs to earn a living, a quick recovery means that they can keep food on the table and keep their family on a path out of poverty.

For more information contact Ryan Smith at ryan.smith@signfracturecare.org