PASCO — Richland orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Zirkle will be honored today as the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award winner at Columbia Basin College.
Zirkle's volunteer work through his nonprofit Surgical Implant Generation Network has helped bring healing to more than 75,000 patients in 47 Third World countries. By establishing clinics in many of those countries, Zirkle has helped train 5,000 surgeons how to use the SIGN orthopedic implant system.
Zirkle has responded to emergencies related to disasters and conflicts in Haiti, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. But he also has traveled all over the world, including most of Southeast Asia.
This week he is heading to Harvard and Yale to speak at their schools of medicine about the surgical implant technique for repairing broken arms and legs.
"This award is for SIGN, not for me," said Zirkle in emphasizing that he is pleased to accept it on behalf of the organization.
"It fits right into where we are as an organization," he said, noting that everything SIGN has done is a collaborative effort.
"It's for bringing people together from all over the world for the purpose of helping the poor, which is what Martin Luther King Jr. was all about," Zirkle added.
The orthopedic surgeon, although now 70, remains motivated and energetic about his work with SIGN, inspiring others to join in.
"I look at it like a Velcro ball. We just attract people and support," he said.
As a representative of SIGN, Zirkle has personally traveled worldwide for three decades to help train surgeons in developing nations on the surgical implant technique that repairs broken leg and arm bones, even under the most primitive medical conditions.
Zirkle, a graduate of Duke University, recently was named a clinical professor at the University of Washington's Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
In receiving the Spirit Award, Zirkle said he appreciates what diversity means.
"I've written two articles about diversity. It's about how you make decisions, what your values are and your world view," he said.
As a surgeon, Zirkle said he's learned that diversity is good for the medical profession. "Diversity trumps ability, especially in medicine," he said.