Healing the Gray People
A Film by Robert Parish

Award-winning Cincinnati, Ohio based filmmaker Robert Parish has spent the past decade writing and producing public television documentary and educational films that have touched the hearts and minds of millions of viewers in the United States and abroad.

Parish has focused his lens on shattering the myths of Autism Spectrum Disorders (The COME BACK JACK series), and empowering those jarred by tragedy to restore and rebuild their lives (The RECLAIMING HOPE, REDISCOVERING RESILIENCE series).

In 2002, Parish met Lewis G. Zirkle, Jr., M.D., an extraordinary orthopaedic surgeon who has devoted much of his life to healing the less fortunate in developing countries. Parish was immediately impressed by Dr. Zirkle’s passionate commitment and began an artistic collaboration that has resulted in a 58-minute documentary entitled HEALING THE GRAY PEOPLE.

Dr. Zirkle, who lives and practices in Richland, Washington, is the founder and President of SIGN (Surgical Implant Generation Network) a non-profit organization created to train international surgeons and manufacture the orthopaedic implants required to heal severe fractures in third world countries.

Dr. Zirkle’s journey to the Third World began in 1968, when he was drafted. He was assigned to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in South Vietnam. During his service in Southeast Asia, Dr. Zirkle treated traumatic injuries of U.S. servicemen and women. He also saw -- up close and personal -- the suffering of the Vietnamese civilian population.

When Dr. Zirkle returned home, his desire to share his expertise to the unfortunate victims of war, accidents, and disease intensified. In 1971, he made his first trip to Indonesia for a group of American surgeons known as Orthopedics Overseas. His travels during the next 19 years took him to many countries throughout the world.

In 1990, Dr. Zirkle’s life changed dramatically after he received a telephone call from a former South Vietnamese soldier. The two men spoke and shared their experiences from the Vietnam conflict. Dr. Zirkle learned that Vietnam was still crippled by the war, and, in fact, things were getting worse. Driven by his memories of the suffering he had witnessed while serving his country, Dr. Zirkle packed two duffel bags with medical supplies and flew to Southeast Asia.

The trip that began with angst and suspicion ended with Dr. Zirkle performing 32 successful surgeries and giving daily lectures to Vietnamese physicians. While in Vietnam, Dr. Zirkle realized that sharing his knowledge was important, but due to the severity of fractures in undeveloped countries -- primarily from road-traffic accidents -- implants were often required for patients or amputation would be necessary. A more challenging issue revolved around developing a practical implant device that did not require sophisticated imagining equipment.

In 1999, Dr. Zirkle founded SIGN for the purpose of manufacturing implants could be used without imagining equipment to locate the holes in the nail for placing the support screws. Today, SIGN manufactures 10,000 implants a year for use in nearly 100 SIGN Projects located throughout the world.

The SIGN Implant Kit is provided no charge to participating hospitals and Dr. Zirkle and SIGN Surgical Teams travel the world teaching their special technique of healing fractures.

The centerpiece of HEALING THE GRAY PEOPLE is an extensive series of interviews with Dr. Zirkle recorded over a two-year period. Also featured in the program are conversations with SIGN surgeons throughout the world, and touching images of people who have benefited from SIGN surgery.

A 6:00 preview is available for download from this website, or by contacting Patricia Fraley (pfraley@graypeople.org) 513-563-4474.

Acquisition and sponsorship information is available by contacting Robert Parish
(rparish@graypeople.org) 513-484-4631.

Worldwide Magnitude of the Problem

Road/traffic injuries are currently ranked 9th globally among the leading causes of disability, and the ranking is project to rise to number 3 by the year 2020. About 90 percent of the disability-adjusted life years lost worldwide due to road/traffic injuries occur in developing countries. The patients’ inability to recover is often inhibited by a poor healthcare infrastructure.

When the breadwinner of a family is injured there is usually no government sponsored support system – no insurance, or free hospital care. In many cases, the family must sell all of their possessions to pay for treatment and surgery. Often, the family moves into the hospital and members become the primary caregiver to the injured family member. Without a SIGN Implant many injuries never heal. Patients are captured in traction for up to 3 years, or suffer amputation. With a donated SIGN Implant, the patient can be up and walking within three days.