Watkins retires for the third time

Broken bones are an everyday occurence for Dr. Robert Watkins.

The orthopedic surgeon at Olympic Medical Center has been repairing fractures for local and visiting patients for more than three decades but now Watkins has retired - for the third time.

At the Feb. 20 meeting of the hospital's board of commissioners, Watkins was honored by the board and hospital staff for his 32 years of service.

"In the times that it was tough, he could've worn a T-shirt that said 'no fear,'" said colleague Dr. Scott Kennedy.

Watkins was born and raised in California. His desire to become a surgeon came partly from his father, a physician who treated inmates at San Quentin State Prison. Watkins studied at Stanford University where he picked up a love for competitive swimming.

He came to Olympic Medical Center where he proved to be something of an innovator.

"He used new methods and original tools to have the job come to a good conclusion," said Kennedy.

Watkins has a mechanical mind. Watkins' colleague OMC Chief of Staff Dr. Mark Fischer recalled the time that Watkins set up a homemade cooling system involving a water cooler to keep his computer's CPU from overheating. Fischer called Watkins a "mad techno-orthopedist."

It was Watkins' love of technology that led him to retire from his medical career in 2002 to work in the hospital's Information Technology Department.

"He took some of the crummiest jobs we didn't want to do," said board commissioner Jerry Smith, who headed the IT department, adding that they had Watkins climbing antennas and crawling under buildings.

In 2004, though, the hospital experienced a shortage of on-duty surgeons in the emergency room and Watkins came back as an ER surgeon.

"He didn't want the responsibility thrown at him, but he volunteered," said board president Jim Cammack.

In 2006, Watkins was instrumental in saving a seriously injured Ukrainian sailor.

On Nov. 15, 2006, Vycheslav "Slava" Kornya, a Ukrainian sailor and electrician, was rushed into Watkins' surgery. Kornya had been working on his ship 30 miles west of Cape Flattery, trying to tie up the ship's loose pistons. One of the cylinders broke loose and crushed his left leg. He was rescued by the Coast Guard and flown to the medical center. Watkins wanted to airlift Kornya to Seattle for care (the leg had no pulse and Kornya's blood pressure was next to nothing), but bad weather made it impossible. Watkins performed a total of nine operations, saving Kornya's life and his crushed leg. According to Watkins, Kornya is back in Ukraine, walking without assistance and ready for gainful employment.

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