MLK Jr. Spirit Award finds worthy recipient

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the bell-ringing ceremony at the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the campus of Columbia Basin College.

It is a happy ceremony; CBC provides the bells and the community provides the audience.

The celebration is of the work King did for the world in his brief lifetime, peacefully marching for justice, for civil rights and for an end to war.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award is annually given to a Tri-Citian who best exemplifies King's spirit.

This year's winner could not be a better fit.

Dr. Lewis Zirkle and his SIGN program more than fulfill the spirit of the martyred civil rights leader and peace activist.

SIGN stands for Surgical Implant Generation Network, a Third World operation that has restored the limbs of tens of thousands of people who might otherwise have become crippled for life, or perhaps not survived at all.

SIGN designs, manufactures and donates the equipment necessary to treat fractures in poor people in developing countries, along with providing surgical training for the physicians and nurses who will do the work.

And in the Third World, where bicycles and motor scooters come in constant contact with heavy vehicles and obstacles, the need for orthopedic care often is paramount.

SIGN has a presence in more than 200 hospitals in 48 developing countries. About 4,000 SIGN surgeons have treated more than 70,000 patients since 1999.

The work is restoring lives for people who would suffer otherwise and be thrust into abject poverty because of their disabilities.

Zirkle first became aware of the need for sharing medical expertise during the Vietnam War, when he was serving in a U.S. hospital there.

He balked at protocols that required that Vietnamese civilians be treated at other hospitals.

After the war, Zirkle invented a cheap and relatively simple process of inserting stainless steel "nails" into broken bones for faster healing and added support.

Then began the creation of special clinics to treat the injured and, equally important, to train foreign doctors in the use of the techniques and equipment so that they can treat their own patients.

It is a wonderful program, supported worldwide by Kiwanis Clubs, which have taken on SIGN as a major project.

The 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. bell-ringing ceremony begins at noon at the King statue near the Byron Gjerde Center on the CBC Pasco campus.

Keynote speaker will be Shirley Long, manager of Lockheed Martin's Application Development & Maintenance Solutions.

CBC President Richard Cummins will deliver the welcoming address.

Zirkle will give a short speech.

Regional Service Corps-AmeriCorps will have activities for kids following the ceremony and refreshments will be served.

The public is welcome.