Illustrious Career as Surgeon Got Its Start at 13 for Bob Olds
by Jim Kelly
Bob Olds got his first break in veterinary medicine when he was 13. “I'd always had a love of animals - all young kids do - and I was fortunate to be hired by the late Dr. Bob Stansbury at his practice in Pasadena," Dr. Olds said. " My job was to feed animals, clean cages and record appetite before school in the morning and on weekends. My interest in surgery began while I observed Dr. Stansbury.
He had a contract with Friskies Cat Food to help determine the role diet played in the development of urinary tract disease. He had a large ward full of cats on different diets, deficient in certain minerals. 1 fed, weighed and wrote down the data - my first experience in research. I didn't really know what I was doing, other than recording the data."
That may have been the last time Dr. Olds, a board certified veterinary surgeon, " didn't really know what he was doing."
Bob did undergraduate work at Washington State University and earned his veterinary degree there in 1967. He was accepted in the internship program at the Animal Medical Center in New York City where he completed a surgical residency.
Then he spent nine months in Europe, living in Alpe d' Huez, France, and working at a veterinary practice in Paris. He also helped obtain and trans port African animals to a zoo in Frejus, France, before returning to the Animal Center in New York as a service head, teaching interns and residents for four years.
After becoming board certified, he was hired by Dr. Ray Sprowl at Brentwood Pet Clinic in West Los Angeles in 1975. He bought into the practice in 1977 and today is medical director at what is now VCA Brentwood Animal Hospital. At 74, he enjoys surgery and teaching students and colleagues.
“I work with Western University students during their core surgical rotation," Dr. Olds said, "and it is a thrill to see the light go on in their eyes when they understand and can apply the basic principles of fracture repair. It's fun to see their surgical skills and confidence improve during their month in our hospital. I teach them, my philosophy that there are three components to a successful case: the pet must get better, the owner must be happy in all respects and the bill must be paid. If any one of those elements is missing, you have not succeeded."
Dr. Olds cites two "wonderful opportunities" in his life. The first was going to Washington State. "I love WSU, being a Cougar, all the wonderful experiences there and the life it has afforded me," he said. " I serve on the board of trustees and help fund-raise for them." The second wonderful opportunity was marrying Janice, his wife of 40 years, "a wonderful woman, life partner and mother of our two sons. Geoff is a fireman in Maryland, whose wife gave us our first granddaughter last spring. Brian, our other son, is a film editor in Los Angeles."
At Washington State half an hour of physical education was required. Bob had competed in gymnastics in junior high, at Pasadena High School and at Pasadena City College. When he registered for classes, he selected a course labeled "advanced gymnastics" to meet the PE requirement. " I was told that it was the WSU team time and in college you just don't join a team. You must try out and earn a spot. I did that. . . . I was lucky enough to be undefeated for three years in dual meets and twice was Pacific North west champion on the pommel horse." His best years as a gymnast came after he graduated and joined a team in New York City. " I finished in second place in the national AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] in 1971 and came in first in the National YMCA, which was an AAU-sponsored event." He participated in the Senior Olympics until age 52 when "I started worrying about my hands as a surgeon."
Today, he is a jogger, hiker, backpacker and climber. Six years ago, he and his sons limbed 7,600 feet to the Mt. Everest base camp. Two years ago, they climbed 19 ,340 feet to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
During his career, Dr. Olds has repaired a congenital femoral deformity in a 10-month-old Begal tiger owned by actress Tippy Hedron, repaired a fractured radius and ulna in a monkey and performed an osteotomy on a chicken with a malunion of the tibia - "the legs were 180 degrees apart, one going forwards and one going backwards," he said. "Of these unusual surgeries, I think the happiest client was the young boy who loved his chicken ," he said.
The case that Dr. Olds remembers best is a story told on television's Dateline 15 years ago. A dog named Charlie was put up for adoption by a family in Oregon. But the person who took Charlie was an agent for a dog dealer and Charlie was sold into a research colony at the VA Hospital in the San Fernando Va lley. He was in a cystic fibrosis study and food was placed in to a duodenostomy and removed from a jejunostomy to check for digestibility. Six electrodes had been implanted in to his jejunum to measure motility. Silk sutures were used for the entire surgical procedure and every suture was infected.
"The Oregon Humane Society asked if I could see if Charlie could be helped and returned to the original owner," Dr. Olds recalled. "When I went to the hospital, the VA physicians and researchers said that Charlie should be put to sleep. 1 walked down to the run [where he was kept] and he ran up to me and curled up in my arms. And I said, 'We're gonna change this.' And they said, 'Nobody's done that before.' And I said, 'This'll be the first time.'
"My nurse, Brenda Stangelan, and I removed all the silk sutures and electrodes and closed both stomas. That was on the day of the Rodney King riots. After a six-week recovery at my house, Charlie was sent back to Oregon. He was a great dog. Six months later, the owner called and said she couldn't keep Charlie any longer. So he came back to me. And he was our dog for 12 years."