SIGN Fracture Care International
July 2, 2019 • Chantel W.
In Indonesia in 1970, Dr. Lewis Zirkle helped the only orthopedic surgeon there create a program that would train others how to treat fractures with implants donated by the United States. The program grew to include 50 surgeons during the time Dr. Zirkle was there. Everything went smoothly due to the Jakarta hospital infrastructure that was similar to the United States'. Fast forward a few years later and Dr. Zirkle returns this time to Sumatra. There he meets a man who has been bed ridden for three years due to a fracture. The techniques Dr. Zirkle brought to Jakarta were ineffective in the rural areas due to poor, undependable electricity and high costs of implants.
Traditionally patients with a fracture are put into traction. What is traction? Think of those old movies where the guy with a broken leg has it in a cast suspended above him while he lays in a hospital bed. A weight pulls on the broken leg allowing a release of pain and opportunity for the bones to heal normally. It is often inefficient and can take months to finish healing, valuable months that a person in a low income area can't afford to lose.
Dr. Zirkle left determined to find a new way to set fractures that required no real-time imaging and therefore, no electricity. It was difficult to find engineering support for the project but eventually Randy Huebner of Acumed began providing technical support, he and his staff developed the original implant and instrumentation which Dr. Zirkle took to Vietnam. . In 1999. SIGN Fracture Care International was founded and Dr. Zirkle returned to Vietnam to get ideas for additional instrumentation from the local surgeons there.
The SIGN IM nail requires no visual sense to implant. Touch, rather than sight, is used to place the nail inside the patient and the interlocking screws through the bone and into the implant. After a fracture is set, the nail is inserted into bone and screwed into place. The nail itself was quickly developed and can be manufactured in 5 minutes. The instrumentation used to insert the nail, however, is much more complicated. It took months and years to develop them. That didn't stop SIGN though. Over 135,000 patients have had a SIGN implant since 1999.
A favorite story of Jeanne Dillner, SIGN's CEO, happened on one of her trips overseas with Dr. Zirkle. Ms. Dillner and Dr. Zirkle travel overseas about four times each year visiting countries like Mongolia, Laos, Africa, Haiti and others where SIGN is in operation. During one of these visits three years ago, Ms. Dillner met Martha, a young Tanzanian girl who had been run over by people trying to escape police. An orphan who lived with her elderly grandmother, Martha was trying to attend school in order that she might support her grandmother. An accident like this would have ruined any chances for Martha to continue her education if traction was the only medical option. Luckily the pediatric nail had been delivered the day before. Martha received one and with the support of Ms. Dillner and her husband she is able to attend a boarding school. Gaining an education is key to getting out of poverty.
SIGN does appreciate help. SIGN's goal is to expand to 30,000 patients per year. Holding fundraisers in your community can help achieve this goal. Find out more about how you can help support SIGN.