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Honoring Ron Gingras

As the rest of the world looks ahead to August and the 2020 fall season, Ron Gingras is prepping for a different type of transition: his retirement. With more than 43 years of service to the Shriners Hospitals for Children health care system and such an extensive list of contributions he has made to the orthotics and prosthetics (O&P) field, Ron has no shortage of memories to reflect back on.

From behind his desk in the Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services (POPS) department at Shriners Healthcare for Children — Florida, we asked Ron about how he felt about the next chapter of his life.

“I’m feeling a little conflicted, both happy and sad,” Ron said while cleaning off his bookshelf. “I’ve made a family here with my team, and together we have accomplished some amazing things. [Looking back], it seems like it all went so fast.”

Becoming a Shriners Kid, and Learning the “Ins and Outs” of O&P

Ron’s relationship with Shriners Hospitals for Children started when he was just a young boy. After contracting polio at age 4, he was left with a paralyzed leg and limited mobility. His parents took him to see a local orthopaedist in their hometown in Massachusetts, who then referred him to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Springfield for an evaluation. While Ron had survived the deadly poliovirus, he would need multiple surgeries as an adolescent to correct deformities to his knee, hip and ankle. He went on to have numerous fittings and received several leg braces until he “aged out” of our system.

Once in his 20s, Ron started taking night classes at a junior college. On his days off, he began volunteering in the O&P department at the Springfield Shriners Hospital. “The relationship I had with the staff was special, and everyone there was so kind,” Ron said. “I had a connection there, and I wanted to go back and give back.”

It was then that he realized his passion for orthotics and prosthetics. A mentor at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Springfield taught him how to make braces, but Ron said he “always kept bugging him to teach me more.” When a technician quit, Ron was offered the position but quickly realized he needed more education. So Ron enrolled at Delgado College in New Orleans, one of only two technical schools with orthotic and prosthetic programs in the country at the time. He received his post-grad certificates in O&P from Northwestern University, Chicago, and soon after was named the assistant director of orthotics and prosthetics at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Springfield.

From Blueprints to Licensing, Building POPS From the Ground Up

After two years in his new role at the Springfield Shriners Hospital, another door opened for Ron. Shriners Hospitals for Children was building a facility in Florida, and they needed someone to head up the O&P department there. John Ogden, M.D., the first chief of staff in Tampa, encouraged Ron to apply for the position and join him at the newly constructed hospital. Ron and his wife, Ann, packed up and moved south in 1984, and Ron was named the first director of the department that would later become known as POPS. A year later, after Ron assisted in building his department from the ground up, Shriners Healthcare for Children — Florida opened its doors in October of 1985 and started providing care to kids.

Yet, he was just getting started. After arriving in Tampa, Ron quickly realized that the state had no formal licensing laws or requirements in place. “People with no training and no education were able to make limbs and braces,” Ron said. “So I went around the state to give talks, and explain why licensing is so important.”

He has served on countless board and executive committees throughout his tenure, including the Florida Association of Orthotists and Prosthetists. As the chairman of their board of directors, Ron worked tirelessly to standardize each level of licensure.

“I think that is one of the things I am the most proud of,” Ron said. “There were other licensure laws that failed, but ours was the first to stick. [Because of that], we gave recourse to people with disabilities. It wasn’t easy all the time, but it was, and still is, a very rewarding moment from my career.”

Once he helped to lay the groundwork for required training and certifications, Ron began concentrating on ways to help fellow orthotists and prosthetists receive that training. So he helped to establish a technical school at St. Petersburg College (SPC) to provide formal education to those entering the O&P field. Many of the staff members – past and present who have worked with Ron in POPS at the Tampa facility, are proud graduates of the program at SPC; a fun fact that made Ron smile while taking his walk down memory lane. 

“We’ve got a great team here, and I haven’t done this alone,” Ron said. “I share all of these successes with them, and I couldn’t have done it without them. We did this together.”

Connecting with Kids and Coming Full Circle

Ron always downplays his accomplishments and instead chooses to focus on the kids. However, there is no shortage of compliments and praise coming from our leadership teams, Ron’s colleagues and our patient families. “Mr. Ron came into our exam room the first trip we made to the Tampa facility and warmed it right up,” said Sandy, whose daughter, Momo, is a patient at Shriners Healthcare in Florida. “He was so caring and explained every detail. We were comfortable immediately, and I am forever grateful to him.”

After sharing Sandy’s sentiments with Ron, he admitted that interacting with our patients was the best part of the job. He sees his career as a blessing. The polio that once payalyzed him ultimately gave him purpose. “My prayer the day I graduated from technician school was for God to lead me to do something meaningful with my career.” Ron said. “Shriners Hospitals for Children helped make that possible.”

Ron’s Legacy and His Next Chapter

We are appreciative for Ron’s years of leadership and expertise, as he was always advocating for and committing to the mission selflessly. That kind of devotion is exactly why he has made such an impact on so many.

His daughter, Michelle, may have said it best: “His legacy is seen in the countless children who benefited from his dedication, as well as the high standard of care he set for the profession.”

Congratulations, Ron! Thank you for everything, and enjoy your retirement!

Ron Gingas

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