story list .......
uphold the Hippocratic oath of 'first do no harm,' but I also like to
run the risk of getting patients better."
The chatter of
veterinary assistants and visitors, resembling the hullabaloo of a New
York diner during breakfast rush, engulfs Arleen Shkapich. People and
their pets from Centennial to Broomfield to Bailey pack the waiting
area, some come bearing gifts of donuts, bagels and fresh tomatoes for
the attentive staff of 10.
Shkapich, of Lakewood, rises from
her seat at Aspen Park Veterinary Hospital and ushers her handsome Boxer,
Toby, past a man holding a quivering Whippet.
Shkapich passes an aquarium where a turtle with a broken shella
life-threatening injuryis recovering nicely. An airline stewardess
found the turtle on a highway in Saint Louis and had it flown to Dr.
H. C. Gurney's office in Conifer for a second chance at life. She remembered
"Doc" from a television segment she saw about him on the Knowledge
Channel. Doc filled the fractures of the reptile's army-green armor
with rivulets of epoxy and the turtle, now stabilized, is none the wiser
Woman and dog enter examining room A and stand face to face with a gray-haired
man in medical attire whose friendly, intelligent eyes are framed by
gold-rimmed glasses and whose quick wit amuses them. Toby was there
for an acupuncture treatment and had already received hugs and kisses
from Doc's attendants.
"Hello Speed," Doc said. Some days it's Fido or even Dead
Dog, a joke between Doc and Shkapich who both know the 11-and-a-half
year-old, could have died six years ago of a type of pancreatic tumor
if the two hadn't met. By the time Shkapich had found Doc, at the recommendation
of a friend, Toby had suffered several different setbacks with his health
and Shkapich had spent thousands of dollars to try and save him. For
example, when he was just a pup his immune system was damaged from being
dipped by a breeder in insecticide along with his littermates to rid
them of mange.
"He really is an incredible man, an incredible vet. His knowledge
is awesome," Shkapich explained. "I think God sent Doc to
earth to help animalsto make them well."
Doc's holistic approach to medicine is uncommon.
He has spent the last 40 years researching the best ways to heal his
patients incorporating both western and eastern techniques. In recent
years, he has traveled to several countries exchanging information with
other complementary human medical practitioners who are advanced in
their fields. And it's not unusual for doctors who treat animal and
human patients to stop in and brainstorm with him.
Besides being a veterinary surgeon he is an acupuncturist, immunologist,
cancer researcher (with medically related patents) homeopathic doctor
and a practitioner of bioenergetics.
Doc's examining areas are lined with an eclectic array of books and
plastic skeletal body parts, which he uses to educate pet owners, and
containers of herbal remedies and rows of vitamins. Around the corner
are x-ray machines, and other necessary diagnostic equipment for swift
He studied neurolinquistics, how the mind and language affect behavior,
to better communicate with human caregivers because humans play a vital
role in the healing process of their pets.
Hope permeates his clinic. Timelines for life-threatening illnesses
are never taken for granted, and the possibility of miracles never left
out of the equation.
"I uphold the Hippocratic oath of 'first do no harm,' but I also
like to run the risk of getting patients better." Doc smiled about
the few extra words he has added to the pledge.
Shkapich, who works in the financial department of Qwest, remembers
the day a couple from California was seated in Doc's waiting room. When
they left, they told the receptionist they would be back in a month.
"I thought, 'good God, I think I am in the right place'people
come from everywhere!" she said. "I am not saying everybody
gets along with him at first meeting, but the majority do. Doc has given
so many animals, who probably would have had a bleak future, a better
quality of life and longer life."
She should know. Her family has had a several Boxers over the years
and Toby has outlived all of them.
"You just keeping thinking 'Doc, don't retireyou can't retire.'"
Doc has been inquisitive
since the day he was born. He left home at 16 when his parents tried
to "stomp the curiosity out of him." They were uncertain what
to do with a son who preferred to be alone and would rather climb trees
and commune with nature than socialize with children his own age.
He became a cowboy in Jackson Hole Wyo. riding horses and
herding cattle for $3 a day. His efforts to further his education over
the next few years were slow and tedious taking college courses whenever
he could afford them. Eventually he joined the army during the Korean
War out of patriotism. His plans to return to Wyoming some day and become
a ranch manager were tossed when he was assigned to the Medical Corp.
where he developed an appetite for medical research.
After he left the army, for a brief interlude, he was involved in space
research at Georgetown University where he and two other scientists
invented a life detection system for space travel. (The patented system
wasn't used until two decades later when it went to Mars on the Viking
Lander in 1976, and returned information about the existence of life
on the red planet).
Then Doc resumed his medical studies and research at Ohio State University
and Battelle Memorial Institute before completing his veterinary degree
at Colorado State University in 1964.
After graduation, he returned to Wyo. and opened a clinic eventually
growing the practice to the second largest in the state. During that
time, his popularity grew enabling him to squeeze in a little politics
as an elected member of the Wyoming State legislature. A black and white
photograph of those days hangs above an electronic scale in his clinic
where dogs are weighed. It's of a younger, thinner Doc rubbing shoulders
with Governor Ronald Reagan some 35 years ago when they were speakers
at a political conference. Afterwards they became friends. When Reagan
died Doc moved the photo from his home, to his office, to honor the
man he describes as honest and straightforwardan image Doc endeavors
He opted for a quieter, simpler life in Colorado in 1973 when he started
his practice in Conifer. But his desire to discover safe and beneficial
therapies for his ailing pet patients has only increased.
"When a patient's options are limited out of skepticism, ignorance
prejudice and inexperience by medical, surgical or alternative health
care practitionersthe only loser is the patient."
Doc cites the poem of a favorite philosopher, the late Kahlil Gibran
who once wrote, "work is love made visible" to explain his
24-hour-a-day passion to increase his patient's options. He rises most
mornings around 3 a.m. to continue his medical research. Some nights
he doesn't leave the office until 7 or 8 p.m. finishing exams with late
visitors. He paces himself like a European stopping for siestas at specified
times of the day to maximize his energy.
"Some people sleep too much and get bedsores," he said. "I
run no risk of that."
Doc believes veterinary practitioners have been reluctant to embrace
complementary methods because of skepticism on both sides of the issue
that has damaged public perception. A few nonprofessionals have made
false claims and given the field a bad name. While some conventional
doctors who base their research on archaic forms of scientific testing
fail to take into consideration the unique properties of herbal and
homeopathic remedies or the hands-on benefits of acupuncture and other
3,000-year old healing techniques. Or for that matter the value of prayer,
as verified in peer reviewed medical journals.
But times are changing.
When Doc began using acupuncture on animals in the 1960s he was one
of very few in the United States exploring the ancient practice. Now,
when he scans the phone book for the Front Range, there are more than
40 veterinarians offering it. And in recent years his alma mater has
included it in the curriculum.
"A few years ago the New England Journal of Medicine noted that
complementary medicine was becoming a burgeoning multi-billion dollar
business and it chided the MDs that were missing the boat," he
said. "That is why people travel long distances to my practice."
Doc's wife Jan can attest to the value of complementary medicine.
Sixteen years ago her Miniature Schnauzer Duffy suffered a herniated
disk. Though she did not know Doc at the time, she had seen him give
a presentation about acupuncture at an animal shelter. She asked her
primary veterinarian about the techniques for her ailing pooch, she
remembers. Surgery was the only option he told heralternatives
The surgery left the dog paralyzed, and Jan was crushed. With no other
options she called Doc's office and he agreed to see the Schnauzer.
"I've made a terrible mistake," Jan told Doc.
"Things happen for a reason," Doc told Jan.
The couple was married about seven months later. Under Doc's care, Duffy
learned to walk again and lived to the age of 17.
Jan is a fiction writer, has degrees in speech and language pathology
and assists Doc in molecular biology work. She spends many hours a week
glued to microscopes isolating data for her husband's medical research
and diagnosticschronic diseases that failed to respond to traditional
The journey has not been easy for a man who has lived his life in a
constant state of curiosity. Hanging in his office is a framed piece
of calligraphy art, given to him by a friend, with a quote by Albert
Einstein that sums up the difficult moments.
"Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from
Easing onto a stool in examining room B, Doc stands beside two staff
members calming an ornery orange Persian named Gizmo. To the gabby owner,
Doc commands, "Sit, heal, and don't moveyou're making your
In an uncanny sort of way, many pet owners who pop into the clinic resemble
their furry friends. Like the redheaded woman who limps through the
door with a bad hip, carrying an 11-year-old red-colored Chihuahua who
has recently stopped walking. There's the woman with Epstein Barr who
has a Chow-Labrador mix with an auto-immune disorder and the fidgety
man sporting a black T-shirt complete with skull and bones who brings
in his black German Shepherd mix with wild restless eyes. A hard knot
on her left jaw, the result of a tooth abscess, had returned after the
man lost the first batch of medication behind the television set. Could
Doc try to keep this visit as cheap as possible the man asked, claiming
it cost his right arm the last time? The guy escapes for $40.
With a pet owner from Boulder, Doc launches into an explanation of solar
flaresif they are active there are more heart attacks and strokes,
if they are inactive, more epileptic seizures.
He stops in the middle of the exam and marvels at how he can check a
heart beat and answer a patient's questions at the same time, given
his age, which he wouldn't divulge.
The stories of Doc's demise are greatly exaggerated; a woman the next
stall over says out loud. She rescues old dogs on the verge of euthanasia
from shelters and veterinary clinics managing to keep them alive and
happy a few more years. That day, her 14-year-old basset, Nepenthe,
named after an herb meaning "forgets all sorrow" was in for
a check up.
Doc knows all about second chances.
He's survived two disastrous auto accidentsgenuine near-death
experiences, as he describes them. Heaven rejected him, he tells people,
because he has more work to do here.