Not many Centralia doctors can say they’ve done an amputation on a kitchen table or their patients have walked three days to see them, but the man credited with bringing specialty medical services to Lewis County can.
From founding a Centralia healthcare practice, to running a coffee plantation in Papua New Guinea, to performing surgeries on medical mission trips around the world, Dr. Larry Hull and his wife, Aarlie, have done it all.
Now, the couple are being honored with the Evergreen Award for their community contributions, both at home and abroad, in healing the human spirit as well as the body, despite the dangers and even violence the pair has faced.
Hull, an orthopedic surgeon, has done nearly 50 medical mission trips over the last 10 years in third world countries like Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“I felt a calling to help the poor and the needy,” the 74-year-old said. “That’s the amazing thing, we’re changing lives one by one.”
In fact, the ability to do mission trips was part of Hull’s original business plan when he founded Lewis County’s first specialty clinic, Washington Orthopedic Center, in 1973.
“It’s part of the company culture,” Hull said. “And as part of the Christian faith, it’s what God wants us to do.”
Today, many of the employees at WOC have followed in the founder’s footsteps by participating in medical missions around the world.
“He’s a visionary,” said WOC Dr. Keith Anderson.
During Hull’s first medical mission trip, he did an amputation on a kitchen table after an earthquake hit Guatemala in 1976.
“It was a simple, uninteresting event,” Hull said modestly.
When Hull was the only orthopedic surgeon Papua New Guinea in the 1990s, patients would walk up to three days just to see him.
With the limited resources of the third world, the American doctor sometimes had to turn pieces of equipment into other medical parts to perform various procedures.
While Hull focuses on medicine, his wife of nearly 50 years, Aarlie, runs their coffee plantation in Papua New Guinea.
“Without a successful business, there’s nothing,” Aarlie explained.
The Mandan Coffee and Tea Plantation employs about 600 workers seasonally and 200 year-round, providing a living compound with clean water, some electricity and free medical care.
The nonprofit ships green coffee beans to roasters all over the United States and to countries like Sweden, Norway, China and Japan.
“Aarlie is a very famous coffee grower over there,” Hull said.
“I’m also famous for being tough,” the 70-year-old added.
Rainforest Alliance certification signifies the specialty coffee’s social, environmental and business sustainability.
Additionally, the couple built a fully staffed medical clinic on the plantation that boasts 10,000 patient visits annually, vaccinates some 5,000 children per year, and offers health education, HIV prevention, sanitation information, family planning, domestic violence services, and general health care.
One of the many challenges the Hulls face abroad is the third world economic corruption where money is shifted from the people to line the pockets of politicians.
“This is an American run clinic,” Aarlie explained. “They’re very proud of that because it is better.”
Additionally, the couple collaborated with others to build a school and put in eight wells to supply clean water, preventing infection and death.
When the Hulls noticed that schools in the Waghi Valley did not have books, they initiated a book drive with coffee roasters from across the United States, which has delivered 75,000 books to libraries near the plantation.
“It’s just amazing when we walk in,” Hull said. “It’s like we’re rockstars.”
The couple has another 80,000 books waiting in storage in Centralia until they can find the $10,000 needed to ship the books to PNG.
The Hulls said the addition of social services has worked well for the plantation’s business model.
But being do-gooders hasn’t come without a price. Aarlie was once attacked while driving to the plantation because the assailants thought she had money for the payroll in the vehicle. The attacker put a gun in her side and held another firearm to the driver’s head.
The men slashed Aarlie’s wrist with a bush knife and cut the cell phone out of her ExOfficio shirt.
Luckily, Dr. Carl Birchard, one of the original surgeons at Washington Orthopedic Center and Aarlie’s prefered physician, was in county on a mission and stitched her up.
Because tribal culture includes vengefulness, Aarlie said, their plantation workers retaliated against the men, cutting and nearly killing them.
Locals have also tried to intimidate the couple into leaving the country.
“But the people around our plantation wanted us so they became our tribe,” Aarlie said.
On another occasion, the couple’s ex-partner and his tribe bribed the police to arrest Hull on a Friday so he would remain in jail over the weekend. But because of all the couple’s work in the community, the director of the neighboring hospital stepped in and saved Hull, taking him to an airport four hours away to flee to Australia.
“The truth is God works in amazing ways,” Aarlie said. “Because if they hadn’t had the clinic, and the books, and the plantation, we would have been chased off.”
While the couple has lived through drama, violence, and fear in their work, they said, it has also provided wonderful experiences.
“There were days we trusted God all the way,’” Aarlie said. “It was clearly a journey of faith.”
The Hulls also helped start the Surgical Implant Generation Network, an organization that provides surgeons in developing nations with the training and instruments they need to improve fracture care. Hull and Washington Orthopedics have funded and provided SIGN equipment for hospitals in PNG and Nicaragua.
“We’re poor because we’ve given it all,” Hull said. “And we’ll continue to give as long as we can.”
The couple plan to return to PGN in March to work on a water project.
“Water is your biggest bang for your buck as far as health,” Aarlie said.
Over the years, several of Hull’s colleagues said, he has influenced many into the medical profession.
“Orthopedics is a very sexy practice because you can fix things,” Aarlie explained.
Executive Director of Visiting Nurses Foundation Jenny Collins said one can see how the culture of community giving began at Washington Orthopedics and continued abroad after hearing the Hulls’ story.
“Washington Orthopedic really supports and sustains a lot of the nonprofits around town,” said Collins, who is also a board member of the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to the community spirit they’ve inspired at home, the Hulls said they have begun to see a cultural shift in their time abroad.
“But there’s so much left to do,” Aarlie said.
“That’s why we’re working hard in the fourth quarter of our lives,” Hull added.
Amy Nile: (360) 807-8235