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Farewell to a good doctor

Orthopedic surgeon Steven Sanwick plans to retire at the end of the year

If sticks and stones break some bones, Spokane Valley will have one less orthopedic surgeon to set them.

After more than 30 years of practice in the Spokane area, Dr. Steven Sanwick, of Northwest Orthopaedic Specialists, plans to retire at the end of the year.

He will be missed by both patients and colleagues who’ve said Sanwick’s bedside manner is as appreciated as his medical skill.

“He is so considerate for his patients and has the deepest respect for them,” said longtime colleague and partner, orthopedic surgeon Douglas Norquist, noting that Sanwick, 66, is “well liked or loved by his patients, respected by his colleagues and a good friend.”

“Has a lot of empathy for his patients, which I respect a lot,” said Sanwick’s practice coordinator, Sue Mockel. “He talks to his patients like they are a friend. His patients absolutely adore him and they have been so sad to hear he is retiring.”

But rather than retire abruptly, Sanwick considered those patients and dropped to part-time in July so he would have a few months to follow up with them and get them phased over to his partners. It is an example of the considerate nature they will miss.

“His personality is fabulous. I would like him to be one of my family, he is such a good doctor,” said Gloria Bundrock, a retired nurse who worked with Sanwick at Valley Hospital and Medical Center for many years and a longtime patient who sees him for the painful effects of osteoarthritis.

“As a good friend, a good physician, he has helped me through many hurdles,” she said. “He has impacted my life a lot. I know I can go to him and tell him what the problem is and he will go ahead and solve it.”

Bundrock chose Sanwick as a doctor, she said, because she knew he took the time to listen to his patients and then find the best solution to their physical problems. “It was his concern about the care of the patient, the therapy he needed … and he had a beautiful bedside manner,” she said.

That bedside manner, coupled with competent care, often brought patients back. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for Sanwick to treat multiple generations.

“I’ve taken care of three generations of the same family,” said a smiling Sanwick, describing a common scenario. “A little girl comes in with a broken wrist. She grows up and brings her little girl in with a broken wrist.”

Sanwick first came to Spokane through the Air Force and practiced two years at Fairchild Air Force Base before opening a private practice in 1976. He joined NWOS in 1989, treating Valley residents for almost 20 years with an approach he describes as conservative and methodical.

“I’m compulsive and picky. I’ve always been more on the conservative side. I’m never the first on the bus and never the last,” he said, explaining that he liked to see how new techniques and orthopedic technology held up before rushing to use them with patients. When he saw the proof of good outcomes, then he would adapt so his patients could benefit.

That picky nature paid off for him and his patients a couple of times, he said, because sometimes a new product didn’t pan out and he was glad he hadn’t used it.

The methodical perfectionist tendencies were also assets in surgery.

“He is very level-headed and common-sense about the way he approaches orthopedics, and to me he has been a good teacher,” said Norquist. “We would operate together quite a lot and his input and assistance in surgery stood out as always very helpful.”

Looking back, Sanwick said some of the most stressful and difficult surgeries were also some of the most rewarding.

After a car accident, for example, he treated a girl whose friends had died in the accident. Her injuries were severe and the surgery had several close calls. But with that methodical tenacity he worked through it and the surgery was a success. “She still brings in her kids,” he said with satisfaction.

Though he is naturally looking forward to retirement when he can spend more time hiking and snow skiing, tackling household projects and volunteering, Sanwick said he will miss almost everything about orthopedic surgery, from his interaction with patients and staff and colleagues to the stimulating challenge of solving problems in surgery.

The one exception, he said wryly, is the paper work. That he won’t miss.

“Patients will miss that special personality,” said Mockel. “He just has something special that he gives the patients.”

“I’m going to truly, truly miss him. His is a joy to know and I’m honored to know him,” said Bundrock. “He was such an asset to the community – always there for you. He has done such a wonderful job treating us. I just dearly, dearly love that man.”

Contact correspondent Jill Barville by e-mail at