Last year was a significant time of reflection for Washington Orthopaedic Center (WOC), in remembrance of the lives and legacy of two founding fathers, Dr. Larry Hull and Dr. Carl Birchard, who both passed away in 2018.
Founded in the summer of 1973, WOC was originally known as Washington Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic. Begun by Dr. Larry Hull and later joined that year by his college roommate Dr. George Harper, together they built the practice with a foundation focused on Christian principles to provide quality orthopedic care to the underserved community of Lewis County.
The doctors joined with Dr. Carl Birchard in 1978, who previously practiced in the Panama Canal Zone, to further grow the orthopedic practice. The three founders of Washington Orthopaedic Center not only brought orthopedic care to Lewis County but also laid the foundation for countless acts of humanitarianism for years to come.
As the clinic continued to grow, a new facility was constructed in 1989 at its current location in Centralia. This clinic also offered diagnostic imaging and physical therapy. In the following year, Washington Orthopaedic Center added Dr. Keith Anderson to the surgery team. The group achieved another milestone in 1994 with the addition of an Ambulatory Surgery Center, making Washington Orthopaedic Center one of only 14 of its kind in the United States with such services all under the same roof. Opening in June 2017, WOC’s Olympia Clinic began to offer the same high-quality orthopedic care provided at the Centralia office for decades.
Doctors Hull and Birchard often spearheaded countless medical mission trips to impoverished areas such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, Trinidad, Tobago, El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Africa, India, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Both men were active in the Centralia Church of the Nazarene. Their faith called them both to improve the lives of the people in other parts of the world who would have not otherwise had care.
Many colleagues and employees at Washington Orthopaedic Center describe their experience at work more like being with family. “When I started working for Dr. Hull and Dr. Birchard at their new surgery center, I had no idea what I was in for,” shares former employee Dondi Sahlinger. “I was a new RN looking for a job that allowed me more time with my family, but what I received in return was much more. I was part of a team – one coached by two men who led by example and whose actions matched their words. It was a joy to go to work in the environment they created. I will always be thankful for the opportunities they gave me.”
The admiration for both men is shared by many who worked with them. “When Dr. Hull was in the office, everyone knew it,” says Wanda Garza, “not only was he friendly and outgoing, he truly cared about each and every one of his patients and employees. He was truly an inspirational, selfless, and amazing man.”
His genuine enthusiasm is what many remember. “Larry [Dr. Hull] identified himself (correctly) as a ‘cheerleader,’” says Dr. Keith Anderson. “He was always encouraging and upbeat. One of his more distinctive sayings was ‘hilarious’ – pronounced ‘high-larious’ when something was funny.”
The humanitarian work led Dr. Hull and his wife Aarlie to became involved with and eventually own the Maden Coffee and Tea Plantation in Papua New Guinea. Na Wokabaut is the name of the non-profit organization the couple established to improve the lives of the people in Papua New Guinea. Na Wokabaut is pidgin meaning “now get up and walk.” The couple helped build a medical clinic and birthing center for the people there. The local people also benefited from the couple’s efforts to begin a women’s literacy program and a clean water project.
Dr. Hull received the honor few receive, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Humanitarian Award in 2010 for his three decades of medical mission work. This is an award that continues to show his commitment and dedication to the greater good of all humankind.
In Dr. Carl Birchard’s family, medicine is a part of life. Until their retirement in 2004, his wife Dee worked as his nurse at WOC. His son Dr. Keith Birchard also joined the practice, and the father and son worked together on spinal surgeries.
“Dr. Carl Birchard walked the ‘WOC’ walk so to speak, as he consistently lived up to the Washington Orthopaedic Center’s mission statement, always rendering compassionate orthopedic care while continuing the healing, caring ministry of Jesus Christ,” said Wanda Garza, CPC. “Dr. Birchard was loved by his patients and all of us who worked with him here at WOC. I will remember him as a very generous man, selfless while caring for all patients, even those who couldn’t afford care, and for being so humble and gracious.”
“Carl [Dr. Birchard] was always a MacGyver; he could make anything work and this is something that he passed on to his son, Keith [also known as Dr. Birchard] who is a surgeon at Washington Orthopaedic Center today. A can-do attitude and strong work ethic is certainly a trait they shared,” says RN Tammy Goodeill.
“Dr. Carl Birchard is remembered as a man of few words, and more of a doer than a talker. He was very talented and to the point,” shares Dr. Keith Anderson.
During their lives, both Drs. Hull and Birchard were very active in many civic, professional and philanthropic organizations. They were both instrumental in the Surgical Implant Generation Network (SIGN). SIGN provides surgeons in developing nations with the training and instruments they need to improve the quality of orthopedic care provided. They were involved in the leadership at their church and Dr. Birchard served as a Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 373 in Chehalis.
Dr. Hull was once quoted on a mission trip as saying, “It reminds us once again that we dress the wounds, but God heals them. When surgery happens on kitchen tables and in bush clinics where a multitude of things can go wrong but don’t, it makes you exceedingly grateful that we do the dressing and God does the healing.” That same mantra was part of the dedication of the Ambulatory Surgery Center in 1994, with the plaque, “Surgeon’s Hands God’s Healing” which still hangs proudly on the wall in Washington Orthopaedic Center.
These men gave selflessly in life and the world is a better place because of them. They helped countless patients locally as well as many without care around the world. Their legacy lives on in the hearts of those who knew and worked with them, as well as in those who received their care.
Washington Orthopaedic Center
150 Dennis Street SW