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A couple of years ago, Claudia (my wife) and I were invited to a reception for SIGN in Portland. SIGN stands for Surgical Implant Generation Network.
Dr. Lewis Zirkle, representing SIGN spoke to the group. He had just returned from helping people recover from the 2010 Haitian earthquake. He was casually dressed and quite unassuming. He walked with a limp. We later discovered that the limp came about after he spent a number of nights sleeping on the ground in Haiti.
Claudia stopped to talk to him. She told him that she was our Kiwanis Young Children Priority One Chair for the Pacific Northwest District. (Her district extends from Northern California through Canada to Alaska). She said that she would love to insert SIGN into her YCPO program.
The Doctor lifted a flash drive from his neck and gave it to her. "I have a copy of my power point presentation on this drive and you are welcome to have it. Let me know if there is any other way that I can help you let others know what we are doing."
Dr. Zirkle is an Orthopedic Surgeon, with an office in Richland Washington. As a new doctor, he was drafted in 1968 and sent to Viet Nam where he served as a commander of a mobile medical hospital.
It was his Viet Nam experience that helped shape, what later, became his life's mission.
In Viet Nam, Dr. Zirkle would run two operating rooms during surgery and when he finished operating, would spend his time in the outpatient area fixing fractures and broken bones. He helped Vietnamese civilians and soldiers and at one time, had an entire wing of the US military hospital filled with local people. According to Dr. Zirkle "After about three or four months in Vietnam, I had reached untouchable status." They left him alone. Dr. Zirkle was known and praised by General Abrams and General Westmorland, as well as the US Commander of the Dak To military area. Dr. Zirkle usually got his way, and spent much of his time treating local people who, through no fault of their own, were casualties of war.
After Viet Nam was over, Dr. Zirkle made numerous trips to South East Asia training local doctors in orthopedic methods.
Dr. Zirkle said that he felt a deep obligation to help people who were caught in the cross fire of the war. It was what he called "payback."
It was one thing to be able to train people in orthopedics but quite another to be able to practice it, when these people lacked the materials to do a proper job.
He first tried to get orthopedic medical supply manufacturers to donate equipment. He discovered that what was donated was often incomplete and usually out of date.
Dr. Zirkle wanted to help third world doctors be able to do their best. With the help of friends, he set up a non-profit company called Surgical Implant Generation Network (SIGN) to manufacture surgical stainless steel orthopedic, rods and screws. The rods and screws are shipped, without charge, to doctors and hospitals throughout the world.
SIGN does much more than just manufacture rods, pins and screws. The SIGN organization is now sending out doctors to train other doctors. They are helping establish surgical units in over 47 different countries. Over 4000 surgeons, now use Dr. Zirkle's surgical implants and they have helped over 75,000 patients worldwide.
Dr. Zirkle insists that the doctors, that he helps, do not charge the people they help.
In most third world countries, a person with broken bones cannot work. If a family breadwinner can't work, then members of the family may starve. Kiwanis Clubs, Key Clubs, and other organizations are all rallying to support Dr. Zirkle and SIGN. It is a Pacific North West Key Club project and the key clubbers have already established surgical units in Africa.
SIGN's mission and Dr. Zirkle's desire, is to help families in the third world live better lives, by making it possible for them to walk and work.
My wife will often pass a SIGN collections jar at our Kiwanis meeting soliciting donations from our members. People in our club call it "Claudia's Jar."
To Claudia, it is just another way that Kiwanis shows love, care and compassion for others.
You can find out more about this program at: http://www.signfracturecare.org/. You can also get additional information by telephoning them at (509) 371-1107 or by writing SIGN, 451 Hills Street, Suite B, Richland, WA 99354 USA