Remembering Dr. Gary Johnson
I like a challenge and often agree to some crazy things before I figure out HOW I will pull them off. But this was too much. Last summer Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation had to take on 13 adult, completely unhandled horses. All needed major vet care like dentals, reproductive ultrasounds, and best of all, four stallions needed to be gelded. All work would need to be performed in a cramped, nasty barn in a two-day period with just beat up gates to use for restraint for horses that you can't even touch. I reluctantly said "yes" but I could feel the gravity of what I just agreed to by the feeling in my stomach. I made one sheepish request: "Please see if Dr. Johnson will come help."
I've known Dr. Johnson and looked up to him for years. He has owned Corriente Veterinary Service in Plover, WI for I-don't-know-how-long. I have never heard a bad word about him from other vets or horse owners which is a remarkable feat. Many times over the years I wished I worked for him. He was an outstanding horse vet, wonderful to his staff and clients, and in all the years of being a vet he never lost compassion for the horse, which unfortunately happens sometimes. Both practices I have worked for have overlapped a bit in geography and clientele so technically I am a competitor, which can create a barrier from vets helping each other and collaborating. Would he want to do this? Was it too messy and dangerous? Too much of a headache? Was he bitter about me being in the area or doing the vet student days for Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation? Would he want to work together at the same farm at the same time which can make liability and insurance a little muddy?
Dr. Johnson said he would be happy to. I was elated and I went from dreading this whole thing to being very excited about it. He couldn't come until the second day, but that was okay. The first day I gelded three of the stallions, but we found one very big problem: one of the stallions was a cryptorchid which means one of his testicles was still up in the abdomen. Uh oh, this stopped me in my tracks. Cryptorchid castrations are a big deal. Years ago I did them regularly, but that was in a clean, fully-stocked hospital environment with trained technicians. We're in a filthy barn with no extra supplies if things go wrong, and a higher risk of infection. I called Dr. Johnson at the end of the day, explaining how the only stallion left was cryptorchid, but hauling this unhandled stallion to his clinic was going to pose a challenge. He couldn't stay intact because he needed to leave this property ASAP and go to training. And finding a trainer to accept an adult intact stallion wasn't going to be easy. There was no way around it--he needed to be gelded, the next day, in that barn, even though it wasn't a good idea medically. Dr. Johnson explained that he would do it because that horse needed it done.
He came on day two and was nothing but humble and pleasant, as always. He respected that I had already gotten things started and instead of assuming authority which would more rightfully be his, he asked "How can I help you? Where would you like me to start?" I was honored to be his surgical assistant that day. Dr. Johnson taught me a variation on the surgery to make it faster and more practical for this situation. He treated me like one of his own veterinarians instead of a competitor and was happy to share his technique with me. He was a true gentleman and an inspiration to many. I'm sad I never got to work for him, but thankful for the day last summer when I could pretend that I did.
I'd like to extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, staff, and clients. He has touched so many people that will forever be impacted by his example and legacy.