From an early age Gordon H. Theilen had an affinity for animals and loved caring for them. As a world-renowned veterinarian, he searched as doctors are doing for humans, for cures that will help animals suffering from cancer. He is known as the progenitor of veterinary oncology. But, his story begins way before as he recounts his childhood memories, living on farm, helping as a farmhand, working side by side with others and knowing that someday he would be a doctor, actually he decided it at age five. Imagine your research and hard work producing groundbreaking research in cancer virology in the 60’s leading to the first clinical oncology service for animals. The book is told in his own words in the first person as he relives many incidents especially the one leading up to how he created the title The Boy with the Wounded Thumb. Many close calls, near-tragedies and his unrelenting curious nature and at times daredevil ways, he ventured ahead despite the many drawbacks to share his special stories with readers. Dr. Theilen shares his early childhood, his many mishaps, problems that he had growing up; serious illnesses that hampered his progress and allow us to meet his best friends along the way. There were many who hired him as a young vet hand on different farms. Some were more forthcoming with their sharing of skills but some were tough on the young boy as he learned many lessons in life and how difficult a profession he was going to be a part of. One doctor, set the tone for his future when telling him to specialize in something that no one else would and he followed suit. He was smart, innovative and helped future vets and generations by inspiring them to understand the field of oncology, comparative oncologists and helps us get to know many of the doctors, schools, professors and friends that helped him succeed. Of course he includes which was really quite humorous some of the practical jokes and pranks that the medical students played on each other and the professors. My favorite story was when he had to denuder a skunk and what he learned as a result. Getting skunked when in the woods hunting frogs with my nephew, it’s no fun. This story has much more to offer as we learn about his family, John, Kyle, Ann and his wife Carolyn who each weathered many storms and the unfortunate outcome of Kyle’s life. Sometimes no matter how a parent tries to teach love, understanding, education and values some often stray to no fault of the parent in this case. Yet, Kyle’s final years did change and he realized his love and respect for his father and mother. The pictures are quite compelling and the stories about how he took care of many different cows and what happened when he did not know what to do shows that he is a doctor filled with compassion, admits his mistakes and hoped to move on from there. I love the stories about birds, the many kinds he and his family got to know their habits and their instincts. I love learning about the wildlife, deer, horses and other animals that round out his veterinary career and what he learned from caring for so many and working for so many outstanding doctors.
Carolyn is his rock and force so when she began to exhibit signs of imbalance, double vision and other neurological disorders they became concerned. Finding out after many doctors, tests, wrong answers and wrong diagnosis that she has MS was not wonderful but yet helpful to know that now she would be able to find some type of treatment to help her and she did when a new drug came out and slowed down the MS but she still had bouts with the illness and learned that another family member had it too. The author gives the history of the illness relating back to a nun that was diagnosed with it. But, this did not stop Carolyn or drag her down. But, Gordon had many other serious dear death experiences that sent him to many ER’s and inside many operating rooms and yet nothing got him down. Retirement happened and a new beginning for him and his family as he ventured more into farming, caring for animals but not on a rigid schedule and then offers came his way and his direction changed again. He adds in information about entering veterinary school, shares his acceptance letter and even his entire time in undergraduate and finally getting his degree as a full-fledged veterinarian. The excitement is felt in every word, scene and incident as the author relates his journeys in many different aspects of animal medicine.
The Balanced Triad which held a triangle in the center with the word Faith inside on the right Hobbies and Extracurricular, left side professional activities and under the base an axiom on a successful professional life which the author explains his rationale for creating this important element that he added to his personal life. The Curse of suicide is quite telling as members of the medical profession took their own lives for various reasons. Chapter 19 the author shares the final moments he shared with both of his parents and how he had a premonition that he would not see them on this earth again. His mother was ill and his father had a heart attack not too long after his last visit in 1965. Explaining how he learned to read animals, their emotions, signs and more was quite interesting and understanding an overview of animal sociology was really enlightening and would help pet owners understand training and how it should be done as the author relates in a way that is not foreign to the animals and with reward in mind. His father was a gifted expert in training horses and he relates many wonderful experiences with his father working on different farms. I learned about genetic selection, breeding, Brittany inheritance that came from the world in a line of ancestors to scientific studies of what occurred from 15000 to 25 thousand years ago. He talks about the first domesticated dogs that were working guard dogs to protect people, sheep goats and cattle from marauding wolves and other predators. I also learned how the boy with the wounded thumb was fortunate to have Rex his dog with him at his side when he accidentally lost his right thumb at age 5. The moment was scary and life changing and it was from an early age that the realized the beauty of animals and that his passion was to care for them and he did for so many over 60 years of practicing veterinary medicine. He loved and still is attracted to all birds, types, colors of their eggs and their construction of their nests. He loves farm animals and his mule Derby was a top of the four-legged hoofed animals. He loved gentle milling shorthorn small cows, Red and cats were amazing to him and all of the many Brittany dogs that many owned, raised and trained. These dogs intrigued him and more. The final chapter focuses on the many dogs that he bred, how breeding works and the pictures of these dogs that he holds dear. One interesting note that the author shares was on page 199 the section titled Preventive therapy, and slow progress of MS. Returning from Geneva, he instituted passive immunotherapy by collecting 20 cc’s of unclotted blood from Carolyn and injecting it intradermally into a pregnant cow. He had evidence in treating cancer patients with immunotherapy that best results were obtained by intradermal injection of vaccines. It is now know that this route injection stimulates “ dendritic cells, initiating immune recognition of unwanted antigens. He repeated this ten days later. The rest you have to read for yourself it is exciting.
His students, interns, residents, fellow doctors and post docs have spanned the world with their influence and leadership affecting many other related areas of veterinary medicine and human comparative medicine. What a legacy for such a great man. Added let’s not forget that he was an active member in the American Kennel club for nearly 50 years- breeding, training and showing champion field trial Brittanys. From someone that almost lost his thumb to a young man who took on many responsibilities, lived on many different places and constantly had to relocate, dealt with death, diversity and great discoveries what a great autobiography with a picture that says it all congrats for writing this outstanding account of your personal and professional life from this reviewer to THE BOY WITH THE WOUNDED THUMB!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine