When I started working at Immanuel Lutheran Hospital in the Enga Province in March 2009 I had already heard of the “American Surgeon” based at the hospital. I knew of his reputation before meeting the man – Dr Steve Lutz or just “steve” as he liked to be called.
When I started work, I was told that Steve had gone to attend his daughter’s wedding when he had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital where a CT scan showed a tumour growing. The tumour turned out to be a astrocytoma. He was unable to return because he was receiving treatment. He underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy before he was fit enough to travel back to PNG.
It was a very emotional welcome! Everyone cried. It was a mixture of joy and praise. He gave all the credit to God and Julie, his wife, who was with him all the way.
Because of the treatment he received his left side was weak so he could only used his right hand. For a surgeon where you use your hands to work, it was a big blow – or so it seemed. But not to Steve. He still wanted to do what he do best – operate and teach us a few surgical tricks in the operation theatre. He was still taking his medications while in PNG but he wanted to be consulted no matter what. Despite feeling sick from the drugs he would still swing his grey stethoscope over his shoulder and come to the wards or the operation theatre to assist. I did several orthopedic cases with him which will linger with me forever. And I will be proud to say, Yes, I did work under Dr Steve Lutz at Mambisanda!
I particularly remember doing a difficult orthopedic case with him. After scrubbing he asked me to open his gloves so he would slide his left hand in. Then he went ahead and slipped on the right glove on his own. Despite the left hand being weak, we still managed to do the case satisfactorily.
Early this year, he started to feel more and more weak and he mentioned to me that he would like to have a review back in the states even though he had made two visits to Australia for review with an oncologist. Prior to this conversation, I had a patient in one of our wards who was in a coma for over 3 weeks. I knew I could not do anything more for the patient. They were poor village farmers and they did not want to be referred elsewhere so I asked Steve for a second opinion. He came to the ward and after discussing the case with him and assessing the patient he went over to the relatives and after informing the relatives of the poor prognosis said something like this: “I am not afraid to die. I have signed my papers that when I am in a coma I do not want anything done on me to prolong my life”. These were not his exact words but something along these lines. And I knew that he meant what he said. As we were walking back to the office, he said,”you know Rodney, it is not necessary to prolong life in someone like that when the quality is poor. The quality of life that we live is more important than how long we live on this earth. I am not afraid to die. I have already signed my will that if I am in a coma I do not want my life to be prolonged”. And he quoted a Bible text: “For me to die is for Christ to live” And how so true are his words. I will never forget that conversation.
The last time I talked with him was in February 2010. He went to the states for his review and never came back. Dr Stephen “Steve” Lutz passed away in his home state of Iowa in USA on the 15th of June 2010 with his family around him singing when he entered his final resting place with his eternal father. He was the man he was until the time he died. Even while wheel chair bound, he insisted on building his own ramp up to the porch.
Dr. Stephen and Julia Lutz (his wife) have served God in Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 1986. Steve was a medical missionary from Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) at Immanuel Lutheran Hospital in Enga Province, serving as a general surgeon and treating a wide range of illnesses and injuries. He also strived to promote primary health care among the Hewa, Nete, and Penale people who live in remote areas of PNG. Steve was born in Nagercoil, India, to Rev. Arnold and Juanita Lutz, missionaries to India. He graduated from the Concordia Colleges in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Seward, Neb. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo in 1977. The Lutzes lived in Iowa during Steve’s surgical residency. Julie was born in Alexandria, Va., to LCMS teachers/missionaries Ralph and Lola Behrens. She graduated from Concordia College in Seward, Neb., in 1974 and taught in Lutheran schools in Detroit, Mich., and Corvallis, Ore. The Lutzes have four children: Paul, and his wife, Rebecca, Anton, Laura, and David.
Dr Steve Lutz was the longest serving Lutheran medical missionary in the Enga Province.
His legacy will continue to live on among his patients and the PNG medical doctors who worked and trained under him.