Wilkerson receives AAOS Humanitarian Award

Thursday, March 8, 2018
Dr. Rick D. Wilkerson is the recipient of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2018 Humanitarian Award.
Photo submitted

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Dr. Rick D. Wilkerson is the recipient of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2018 Humanitarian Award. Wilkerson was honored at the Academy’s 2018 annual meeting for his nearly three decades of work serving underserved populations around the globe.

The Humanitarian Award recognizes living fellows, international and emeritus members of the academy who have distinguished themselves through outstanding musculoskeletal-related humanitarian activities in the United States or abroad.

Wilkerson lives in Spencer, with his wife Barb Wilkerson and nine children. Early in his career, he chose to practice in a rural area of Iowa as a result of a suggestion by his wife that he practice in an area that needed him, not one that he needed.

“The life of Rick Wilkerson and his family is lived quietly, but with pronounced distinction,” said David Barber, one of Wilkerson’s classmates from West Point. “Together, they bring a message of real and lasting peace to many international homelands by passionately focusing on dispensing healing directly to the households of people in underdeveloped nations.”

In addition to being a skilled orthopaedic surgeon, Rick Wilkerson is passionate about helping countries develop and improve their orthopaedic capabilities, and he knew that with his experience, resources, and determination he could make an enormous impact on peoples’ lives.

His global humanitarian pursuits have taken him to more than 14 countries such as Haiti, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Uganda. His colleagues credit his West Point education and military medical experience as a key factor for the special instincts and skill set required to thrive in environments of war, hostile governments or natural disasters.

Rick Wilkerson has been greatly involved with Health Volunteers Overseas and the International Medical Corps. Among his many accomplishments, he has made annual trips to Iraq, initiating a total knee replacement program for Iraqi residents, leading to more than 1,500 TKAs performed. Rick Wilkerson also sponsored eight Iraqi orthopaedic surgeons in his private practice for postgraduate training. During their time in the U.S., these surgeons lived with him and his family. As a result of his commitment, Rick Wilkerson was named honorary professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Basrah in Iraq.

During his travels with HVO, he trained surgeons, treated patients, created orthopaedic training programs and taught medical students in Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Uganda and Cambodia.

Rick Wilkerson’s humanitarian efforts abroad resulted in more than just disseminating orthopaedic knowledge and access to care. In addition to their five biological children, the Wilkersons have adopted four children. On a trip to Cambodia in 1996, Rick Wilkerson adopted a baby boy, Daniel, who was left on a doorstep with a note as a newborn. His daughters, Breanna and Kate, were sisters caught up in the Iowa foster care system. He and Barb Wilkerson adopted both to keep them together. In 2010, Rick Wilkerson spent three weeks in earthquake-stricken Haiti to provide aid. It was there that he met a newly-orphaned Haitian boy, Junior, who was soon thereafter adopted by the family.

Rick Wilkerson recalls that some of his most memorable experiences were when his family traveled with him. This includes a trip to Kampala, Uganda where Barb Wilkerson, a pediatric nurse practitioner, developed the pediatric intensive care unit’s standard operating procedures for provision of oxygen for patients in the pediatric ward at Mulago Hospital. Additionally, his children created a playroom in the pediatric ward.

Based on his experience in Haiti, the Wilkersons established a nonprofit organization, Love Takes Root, in 2011 with a mission to cultivate the welfare of children worldwide. Since its formation, they have purchased over 3 acres of land in Jacmel, Haiti, built boys and girls cottages, a staff house, a dining room/kitchen, a primary and secondary school for more than 400 students, a computer lab and a medical clinic.

The philosophy behind LTR is reflected in its support of a mentoring project so that it becomes self-sustaining within five years, by teaching Haitians management skills.

“We now have orphanage staff, teaching staff and clinic staff on their way to self-sustainability instead of dependence on charity,” Rick Wilkerson noted.

Rick Wilkerson has been a long time, active member of the AAOS, serving on the editorial board of orthoinfo.org for nearly 15 years and the Board of Councilors for six years. He has also been an oral examiner for the ABOS for years.

“Receiving the AAOS Humanitarian Award is an incredible honor, especially given the caliber of all the previous award recipients, many of whom I’ve known and worked with,” Rick Wilkerson said. “It means so much that my peers took the time to nominate me.”

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