General Mattis presents prestigious medal to Richland surgeon

Secretary of Defense James Mattis shakes hands with Dr. Lewis Zirkle at the presentation ceremony.

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, made a special appearance on Monday to honor a Richland orthopaedic surgeon who made it his life's mission to care for the injured poor in developing countries.

Dr. Lewis Zirkle became aware of the plight of patients in developing countries while serving as an orthopaedic surgeon for the US Army in Vietnam.

After completing his service, he opened an orthopaedic practice and used his vacation time to teach surgeons in developing countries.

Dr. Zirkle has seen patients abroad who suffer from fractures that could’ve been treated and on crutches in three days, yet spent three years bed ridden because they didn’t have access to proper and necessary care.

Since 1972 he has taken 110 trips to 34 countries to provide orthopaedic training and donate supplies.

In 1999, he founded SIGN Fracture Care International to manufacture and donate orthopaedic instruments and implants, specifically designed for use in developing countries.

Every day he reviews x-rays and surgical notes on the SIGN Database, providing training and mentorship to more than 5,000 SIGN Surgeons in 50 countries.

“Our goal is the equality of fracture care throughout the world,” Dr. Zirkle said.

SIGN Fracture Care International strives to achieve equality of fracture care by empowering local surgeons and hospitals through education and donation of implants, so they can care for and treat injured and impoverished patients.

For his work healing more than 210,000patients, and training more than 5,000 surgeons, General Mattis presented Dr. Zirkle with the Department of Defense's Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

"I would say Dr. Zirkle, you are part of the power of inspiration, part of the reason America will stay a great country because you prove we are a very good country,” General Mattis said during the award ceremony.

The Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service is the highest award presented by the Secretary of Defense to a private citizen, politician, non-career federal employee, or foreign national.

It is presented for exceptionally distinguished service of significance to the Department of Defense.

“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.

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