The Boy with the Wounded Thumb is the autobiographical account of the world’s leading innovator in veterinary oncology and comparative cancer medicine: Gordon H. Theilen, DVM, ACVIM-Oncology. Dr. Theilen is among a handful of internationally renowned veterinary comparative scientists who founded the discipline of veterinary oncology in the 1960s. Noted for his stubborn refusal to concede to the ravages of cancer in animals, Dr. Theilen made discoveries that contributed significantly to treatment of neoplastic diseases in humans. He has been a leader in combination cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy.
The book, which Theilen dedicates to “initiators of new wisdom to benefit humans and animals,” describes his Depression-era childhood in rural Minnesota as the son of sharecropping farmers, how the numerous injuries he sustained throughout his rough-and-tumble youth piqued his interest in physiology and medicine, and how a disparaging, scornful high school teacher only steeled his determination to pursue admission to the University of California. The Boy with the Wounded Thumb is laced with humor, as he recalls hijinks and escapades of his youth that helped bolster him through emotionally and economically difficult times.
He tells of his detour as a novice large-animal veterinarian in Tillamook, Oregon, following his graduation from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine in 1955. It was there, while helping cows give birth and treating ailing goats and other farm animals that he realized his true calling was teaching. When his veterinary alma mater called, he joined the UC Davis faculty. There Theilen made his mark, not only as an excellent teacher but as a pioneering researcher whose discoveries about oncogenic disease sent ripples throughout the human and veterinary medical sciences communities worldwide.
All the while, he unwittingly became a witness to the ravages of multiple sclerosis, with which his wife, Carolyn, has grappled for four decades. He has become an advocate of immunotherapy to treat MS, and the couple has found strength in prayer as a means to cope with the neurological effects of the degenerative disease.
Theilen stepped away from his 37-year career when he retired in 1993. His companion book, to be published in late 2017, will focus on his clinical career and his scholarly research and findings that brought him worldwide scientific recognition as well as the admiration, respect and gratitude of generations of veterinary students.