A doctor from Richland, Washington, Monday was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. It’s an honor that is often bestowed upon U.S. presidents.
Dr. Lew Zirkle, an orthopedist, was honored with the medal for his work in developing nations. He founded a nonprofit called SIGN that trains doctors across the globe to use innovative approaches to treat people with bone fractures or deformities.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former Marine general who grew up in Richland, came to present the honor. He started by saying he was “so happy he could cry” to be out of Washington, D.C., for a bit.
Mattis said the U.S. has two main tools at its disposal abroad: One, the power of intimidation, and two, the power of inspiration.
“I would just say, Dr. Zirkle, that you’re part of the power of inspiration,” Mattis said. “And you’re part of the reason America will stay a great country. You prove we are a very, very good country.”
Zirkle’s nonprofit, called SIGN Fracture Care, makes stainless steel medical implants that can help speed up the healing of broken bones. The nearly 50-person organization manufactures the rod-shaped implants in Richland.
SIGN trains surgeons from all over the globe and supplies them with the implants and the tools to use them. Zirkle said since 1999, his team has trained thousands of surgeons and made more than 200,000 surgeries possible.