Dr. David Witzke (“dad”) and me, celebrating his birthday as he opens presents.

A scalpel, a pigskin and some benjamins

By Peyton Witzke| Assistant Web Editor

When I was six years old, every Saturday afternoon was spent at my dad’s office, The Plastic Surgery Associates of South Dakota LTD. We would swing by Subway on the way over, covering our favorite veggies with enough mayo and honey mustard to drench the bottom wheat bun. A stop at the vending machine next to the elevators was a must, considering a bag holding the perfect crunch of cheddar and sour cream Ruffles chips was a mere $1.50 and push of the F2 button away. Then I’d eat my mayo and honey mustard breaded soup with veggies and Ruffles in under three minutes, grab my doll named Cookie and my two favorite stuffed animals and head into the nearest operating room.

Cookie needed emergency surgery.


My dad went to school for 28 years. Four years of college at UMN. Medical school at Mayo — the second year it was ever open. David Witzke was hand-picked out of thousands to be one of 40 medical students. Five years of general surgery residency at Mayo. Two years of plastic surgery specialty residency at Mayo. When the 28 years were finished, he opened his own private practice, The Plastic Surgery Associates of South Dakota, the surgical hospital in the Dakota Dunes and also started the burn unit at Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls.

He fell nearly one million dollars in debt.

Every other day and every other weekend he was on call for the emergency room, along with visiting with his own patients every day for the first 15 years of his practice.

Many people who begrudge paying their physicians bill after a life-saving surgery visit are willing to fork over upwards of $100 for a decent stadium view at an NFL game. Most are unaware how much an NFL player, who can run and throw a ball, makes annually while compared to their surgeon, who just saved their literal breath.

If you are Aaron Rodgers, well first off you are genetically blessed — GO PACK GO — and are raking in a whopping $22 million dollars annually. If you are a not-so-famous NFL player, you can make $2.1 — $20 million per year. No education needed. Compare that amount to the average salary range for a non-specialty hospital based surgeon is $301,000 — $767,000 (may fluctuate based on state location and independency) and a bubbling pot of controversy is about to boil over. Obamacare thrives on this difference. According to Medicaid.gov, in order for the Affordable Care Act to work, doctor’s salaries are supposed to plummet.

Should NFL players make a mere $21 million more than a surgeon? The Green Bay Packers have held my heart captive since I exited the womb but I’m here to tell you that Aaron doesn’t need more money than someone who can reconstruct my face with no scarring after I’ve slashed my jaw open and cracked the bone from falling off of my bed while sleeping. No sir.

Cookie sits motionless on the cold steel sterile table. I scrub in. My supplies are ready in the tray. Dr. David Witzke M.D. also scrubs in to assist me with applying a cast on her newly broken left wrist. Distraction techniques are used so she doesn’t feel a thing. We give her markers to draw on her cast, along with sunflower stickers, a red sucker and a purple and blue puppy stuffed animal to soothe her post-cast anxiety. Dr. Witzke leaves the operating room to return to his office.

He’s preparing for surgery by reviewing the patient history and the procedure.

An orbital fracture — from a football injury.