When Donald Bittner, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with St. Jude Heritage Medical
Group, helped to successfully reattach the arms of a 12-year-old boy,
the surgery did not take place in an advanced surgical suite at St. Jude
— but in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Both of the Afghani child’s limbs had been nearly severed in a thrashing
machine accident and after a 10-hour surgery, the boy joined hundreds
of American soldiers and civilians whose lives were saved through the
efforts of Dr. Bittner, a Captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Yet, it was not for his surgical expertise that Dr. Bittner, one of Southern
California’s most respected hand and wrist experts, recently received
the military’s prestigious Legion of Merit Medal. Rather, the honor
recognized his “extraordinary service and achievement” as
a Navy commanding officer.
Presented at a formal military ceremony, the medal — one of the armed
forces most important — cannot be earned through superior performance
of normal duties, but only through exceptional accomplishment and contribution.
Dr. Bittner, who spends his weekends and vacations flying to naval posts
across the country, received the honor for his innovation and success
in improving the physical, mental and emotional readiness of the soldiers
under his command. His leadership in addressing soldiers’ personal
and emotional issues, as well as their physical wounds and health, propelled
the 13 detachments under his command to extraordinary levels of readiness.
“It is a privilege to work with the remarkable men and women who
sacrifice so much for our country — no other recognition was needed,”
says Dr. Bittner who, in addition to his full-time practice at St. Jude
Heritage Medical Group, serves as Deputy Chief of Staff, Navy Reserve,
for the western United States. “It was an amazing and humbling moment
to receive a medal for the privilege of helping them.”
Dr. Bittner’s years of service include a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan
where he oversaw the organization and construction of dozens of battlefield
hospital stations and clinics while also performing thousands of surgeries,
often under difficult circumstances.
“It really is an honor to help our soldiers, who serve with such
passion and integrity,” Dr. Bittner says, who recently co-authored
a textbook on traumatic injuries that is used by military and civilian
hospitals alike. “To play a role in helping ensure their physical
and emotional health is a pleasure and joy.”
Those who work with Dr. Bittner say neither the medal, nor his humility
about earning it, are surprising. “He is extremely caring and very
humble,” says Cynthia Leva, a medical assistant, who explains that
the “extraordinary service” documented by the honor is evident
in his everyday interactions with patients. “You can see his desire
to help and his commitment to making his patients’ lives better.
Our soldiers are very lucky to have him.”
Dr. Bittner’s medical office is in Fullerton. For appointments, call