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Table of Contents
Mayo Clinic Letter………………………………………………..................….2
Table of Contents…………………………………………………………...…..3
Stopping Innovation, Stops America…………………………………...…..…6
My Story Starts Here………………………………………………........…...…9
World War II and Beyond…………………………………………….............38
The Korean War……………………………………………………..……...…40
Those Early Years in Pasadena……………………………………….….....44
Innovation is the Key…………………………………………………..…...…52
The Circumferential Dental Implant………………………….......……….....52
The TMJ Implants…………………………………………………………...…55
The Transosseous Dental Implant…………………………………….….....63
The Modular Mandibular Implant……………………………………........…70
What Brings Forth The Innovative Spirit?.................................................79
The Story of Abram…………………………………………………...…....…81
The Story of Rahab…………………………………………………………...83
The Life of Steve Jobs……………………………………………………... 87
I would like to dedicate this book, first to our Lord Jesus who gave us the blueprint for our successful journey through the life that He was calling us to fulfill.
Secondly, to my wife, Lynne Christensen, who has been willing to walk with me in covenant and to encourage, refresh, and inspire me along the way.
Then to my own parents, Eva and Lee Christensen, who showed me the way to walk and work through those special years during the Great Depression when I was young and everything was new.
Also, to my biologic father, Dr. Charles J. Brophy, whose genes undoubtedly had much to do with who I turned out to be.
To all of the teachers who help to guide me through those tortuous years of education and who were willing to inspire me to be the best I could be.
To my brother Chuck and sister Shirley, who always were there to mentor and encourage me.
To all 10 of my children, especially my dear daughter Joan, who never gave up on her father, and who was always there to love and to encourage me. To my sons, Chris (Robert Jr.), Matthew, Peter, and most all of the others who helped to show me and encourage me to be the best that I might become.
To many of the surgeons who were my colleagues and at times my mentors in moving down a path which allowed for significant innovations to occur in the medical and surgical field.
And lastly, to several people who either encouraged me through their prayers and love such as Helga Phillips and Lynne Pilot, and another dear young woman who was willing to help me in the hours, days and even months of preparation of this book and 20 others for publication. Her name is Lenaya Casados, a true workhorse with an angel’s attitude.
Finally, a special thanks to my business associate. Frank Harritt, for his powerful insights.
As an 87 year old, somewhat retired surgeon, medical device innovator and author, I could never have imagined what God’s calling on my life might be, but then, how He was always present to bring some talented people alongside so that His calling for my life might be totally fulfilled.
For all of these reasons, I am most grateful.
Dr. Bob Christensen
Innovation, the Missing Link
Stopping Innovation, Stops America!
If America is going to improve the job situation and the unemployment rate here in our country, we will have to change the direction we have been going over the past 50 years.
Prior to WWII, people in America were free to innovate most anything, at their own expense, without big brother breathing down their necks. The hope of establishing a product or an idea which might bring forth an income was usually enough motivation to get a person feeling there would be a chance for a thought to go all the way from just a thought to a full-fledged innovation which would then bless some entrepreneur, and hopefully the innovator.
The time lapse from the idea to the fully developed innovation can be a variable, but in today’s culture here in America, if that innovation involves some medical device or drug, it can go from perhaps 5 years to decades. It often times robs some needy patient from getting the care which he or she needs at that moment, but just as importantly, preventing entrepreneurs and innovators from being able to even get started because of the enormous costs of regulation, especially for the new inventions.
Let me tell you the story of one small medical device which happened to be one which I had developed. It was originally put into use back in the 1960 time frame. Then some 40 years later that product and company got caught up in the approval process of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and then literally got taken off the market for some 20 months. You see, the government bureaucracy made such a nightmare of getting through their approval process that eventually my small medical device company used up all of the funds my wife and I had accumulated over my 62 years of employment as a surgeon and as a medical device company founder. This deprived my wife and me of our retirement, but even more importantly, they deprived the needy patients from having this only one of a kind surgical implant from being available. This story is not as unusual as one might expect, but let’s go way back to the beginning of the story. Before we do, however, let me bring forth two recent quotes from two very significant people.
In March of 2012 two famous Americans made the following statements:
Condoleeza Rice, former US Secretary of State, said “America's greatest strengths stem from the freedom to innovate, create, compete and succeed.”
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, said “that innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
It is in this small book that we bring forth the premise that if we stop innovation, we stop America. As I tell my own story of growing up through the years of the Great Depression, serving my country as a Navy officer, and starting my own private surgical practice we might see that as the Bible tells us, all things work together for good for those who love and serve the Lord. Does that mean there will be no hardships, attacks, persecution? No, but with God all things are possible.
Sit back and relax as I tell this story of growing up, and later on of being an innovator of some important medical innovations. Also of enduring some hardships, and through it all, keeping the peace of God in our hearts.
My Story Starts Here
My beginning starts in my birth at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, NY was on April 6, 1925. My mother, Eva Sutherland Hart, lived in Lawton, Oklahoma and was at this time attending Columbia University, Teachers College where she graduated and then married a New York City dentist named, Dr. Charles J. Brophy in about 1921.
Charles Joseph Brophy was born on October 25, 1886 in New York State, the middle child of three, to Michael and Mary Brophy. I believe was born in New York State in 1856 and Mary was born in Connecticut in 1860. Their older child was Katherine, then Charles Joseph and then came Frederick Harold. Charles and Fred went on to graduate in Dentistry from the New York Dental College in 1913 and 1916 respectively; later to become the Dental College of New York University. Fred joined the Army and went to Europe to fight in WWI, while Charles stayed in New York City and held down a dental practice for the two of them. In the mid 1930’s Fred became President of the Manhattan Fourth District Dental Society, the largest dental society in the U.S. He was very well liked in New York City and I believe he held down the very practice my father, Charles, started way back in 1913. Their offices were at 6th Avenue and 59th street which was also known as Central Park South. It was a 7 or 11 story medical-dental building which had views overlooking the park. Their offices were on one of the upper levels of the building.
Over the next 6 years, my parents had three children. My older brother, Charles, was born in August 1923 and my younger sister, Shirley, was born in in February of 1927. To Mother and Dad, this must have seemed like a dream come true. But then in August of 1927, Dad got acute septicemia from a boil on his face and promptly died, leaving mother with 3 small children and very little money. These were the days in 1927 before Fleming invented penicillin. In a later period there is no way my father would have been dead a week after having a skin infection manifest on his face. But, again that is the value of our people being innovative.
Back to the time of Charles’ death on August 23rd, 1927, his funeral and burial were on my brother, Charles’ 4th birthday. I cannot even imagine the heartache and courage necessary for mother to face the future with 3 very young children, no husband, no parents close by and little money and no future income. What a difficult time. I give my Mother a lot of praise for being able to carry on so well in such difficult circumstances and at such a young age.
Mother then moved to Oklahoma for a few months with the children, there she spent a short few months with her mother and her stepfather. A few months later she travelled by train to San Diego to be with her own father, Fred Sutherland. This was in the early part of 1928. In the Nation at that time there was much turmoil about to develop with the October 1929th Stock Market crash, which of course affected the election between Hoover and Roosevelt. The years just prior to the Great Depression were the post-World War I years known as the Roaring Twenties. But for mother and her small family it was a most trying time.
Fred Sutherland was born as Fred Brown in Nebraska, but somehow changed his name early on and at some sometime later moved to Oklahoma. He and Eva’s mother, Margaret Kirkpatrick were married very young but split up and divorced probably within the first 2 or 3 years after their marriage. They owned and ran a mercantile or feed store in Lawton, Oklahoma. Getting a divorce had to have been rather tragic and unusual too, at that period of time.
When mother and we three children arrived in San Diego I suspect mother was very glad to have been able to reconcile with her own father, and the same for him and which allowed him to spend a bit of time with his only grandchildren; though he had been married a couple of times after his marriage to Margaret.
I remember him quite well. He was a good looking man of about 50 years of age. He had pure white flowing hair. He was a real entrepreneur. He owned almost all of the taxicabs of San Diego, both Yellow Cab and Checker Cab, plus a Sutherland Stage Line; which ran busses from San Diego to La Jolla and to Tijuana, and to Ensenada Mexico. At one point he owned the border crossing property that the U.S. border now occupies in Tijuana. He also had a lease of property for his taxicab garage that covered a square block in downtown San Diego, plus a 100 year lease on a hotel in San Diego. He also owned the 800 acre Grey’s Ranch near Julian, plus the Pine Hills Lodge, also near Julian. He was certainly a man’s man with vision beyond one’s imagination.
Now back to Mother’s trip out West in early 1928. Thankfully, for Mother and her small family, being able to live in her biologic father’s home was a real blessing. Unfortunately, that time of recouping and peace was short lived. In 1931 my Granddad developed a ruptured appendix and he died, leaving Mother stranded again. The acute peritonitis, which Granddad developed, would not have been as likely fatal a dozen years later as the period of the antibiotics was beginning.
I well recall his funeral at Bonham Brothers Mortuary there in San Diego in 1931. I was moved to see him lying on a bed with what appeared to be cheesecloth draped over him. He looked very peaceful. I would have loved to have been able to talk with him later in life as he definitely was an innovator and one who, in his own small way, moved America forward.
During this period, innovation was speeding up in the United States. Fortunately the period of government regulation and restriction had not fully developed; so that individuals could use their creative brains to bring forth new ideas and products which would greatly help all of mankind without breaking the bank.
It was about the time of my Grandfather’s death that Mother had met a young man, named Lee Christensen, whom she later married and changed her name to Christensen as well. This was a time for mother to be able to grow again in hopes that her future, with the three children, would be more rosy and prosperous. Lee was an industrious man in the areas of home building, but was not one refined by some years in a college. He was a self-made man, who in his teen years saw his own father die of an accident in the railroads where he was employed. He had two younger sisters, Hortense and Leona. Hortie later married Verne Lewellyn who had first distinguished himself as the captain of the Nebraska 1923 football team that beat the Four Horsemen of Notre dame. He was then selected by Curly Lambeau to be the first player to be brought in from out of State to play on the Green Bay Packers. He later coached the Packers and became their first General Manager and later filled the spot as the Green Bay district attorney.
Lee, who was in his mid-teens, went to work for his Uncle Henry in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the construction of commercial buildings. In that trade and under the tutelage of his Uncle Henry, the young Lee Christensen learned a lot about all of the building trades. In those times of severe unemployment across our Nation, Lee was able to learn a great deal about all areas of building construction, which would benefit him greatly in later years.
When he and Mother were married in 1931, near the time of Granddad’s death, Lee was just starting up his own business in termite extermination, which was an offshoot of the building industry. Because of his background in all of the building specialties, Lee became proficient in most of them and so when termite infestation began to destroy someone’s home, Lee was able to not only rid the building of the infestation problem, but then rebuild the destroyed portion back as good as new, and usually quite proficiently and cost-effectively.
At that same moment a couple of interesting things happened. First, I guess mother and our new stepdad decided it would be best to change the last names of us three children from Brophy to Christensen. I don’t think we were ever given a vote, but we shouldn’t have expected one, either.
But the other thing that happened was quite interesting. Mother and Dad decided to drive in granddad’s 1928 Buick sedan to Oklahoma to see Nana Hart (mother’s mother), living in Lawton where mother had been raised. It would be a long trip, but also a most hazardous one. As mother was driving late one night, about 2:00 AM, through the area of Texas near the panhandle of Oklahoma, she said to Dad, “would it be OK to ask directions of a couple of men standing under a lamp pole on the side of the road”. Dad was sitting on the passenger side and had been sleeping, but he answered, “Yes, go ahead and ask them directions”. She did and then they took off down a dirt road which the man had told them to take. Some short time later, Mother seen a car coming down the road behind them and said something to Dad about it, and he tells her to just slow down a bit and they will pass.
She did slow down a bit and when the car was going past them a man jumped off the running board of the other car on to their running board. He had a Lugar pistol in his hand, and now in her face. She stopped the car and both she and Lee got out and one man took mother to the back of the car and took her rings and jewelry and the second man took dad to the front and took his wallet and money and ring. The robbers then took off. Sometime later when Mother and Dad had arrived in the next town, they went to the Sheriff’s Office. He had just heard of a similar thing happening somewhere down the road so the Sheriffs took Mother and Dad with them. When they got there one man was killed and another was injured very badly by these same robbers. One never thinks these sorts of robberies are occurring, even in those days, but they were. The rest of the folks’ trip was uneventful.
It was also at a sort time following that episode, that Nana Hart was out staying with us. Maybe the next year, it was before Granddad died, and she drove over to Grant Elementary School to pick Chuck and me up to bring us home for a lunch. She had driven the 1928 Buick and when we all arrived home she parked the car in front of the house on the downhill sloped road which was St James Place. Unfortunately, she forgot to set the brake and the car went rolling down the hill about two blocks and over a 25 foot cliff. It did quite a job on that beautiful car, but Granddad had a large repair garage for his 100 Yellow Cabs, and they were able to remake that Buick, just like new. I’m sure that was a sorry moment for Nana Hart.
We had continued to live in Granddad’s home in the Mission Hills area of San Diego for about another year before we moved into a rental home in a lower class residential area of East San Diego; there we began a whole new life. By this time I had travelled through a couple of pre-kindergarten semester’s at a Montessori school, plus the kindergarten and 1st and 2nd grade at the U.S. Grant Elementary School there in Mission Hills. My older brother, Charles was the more noticeably intelligent of the three of us children. My younger sister, Shirley and I were less likely to excel in school, as we certainly had to put more thought into our homework and tests. Actually, I was put back one semester in the 2nd grade as I was apparently either too young or maybe too stupid. I like to think the former, however. Actually, I think Shirley came down with Chicken pox and at that time they always quarantined other family members, so I had to miss some school. Nearly a hundred years later someone was kind enough to show me my 2nd grade report card and the notes which the teacher placed on my card are not worth repeating. I sounded quite awful. I’m still trying to forgive that awful teacher.
Well, because of the move of our home from Mission Hills to East San Diego, we would now go to attend a two room elementary school named, Andrew Jackson. That was probably a break for me as being in a new school there was little connection to how I had or hadn’t done at the Grant Elementary School. If I remember correctly, in the new school, there were three grades in one room and the same in another room. It had to have been quite small classes to allow that to happen, but it did. We rented a small three bedroom, stucco, one-story home on 59th Street right, off of El Cajon Blvd. in East San Diego. Nothing unusual happened to any of us three Christensen children while at that school. I suspect I liked my teacher better in this school than my earlier 2nd grade teacher. Moving on…
That would be our home and school as we waited for our own home on Fairmount Avenue to be built about a year later. It was next door to Hamilton Elementary School Elementary School. Dad was building the three-story, stucco home by himself. And when time permitted I was allowed to either pick up loose nails from the building site or some other simple project. I would now be starting the third grade; as I had to repeat part of the 2nd grade.
We moved in that new home, which cost Mom and Dad the sum of $5500 to build. The property lay on about 1 acre of canyon type lot. It was next to a small gas station which Dad (Lee) had built and leased to another fellow.
Since there was a bit of land in this canyon behind our three-story, “block” looking home, Dad felt it would be good if we had a milk cow so we wouldn’t have to buy milk, just hay. So we found a 3-4 gallon a day, Jersey milk cow who we called Bossy. She was the typically dish faced, beautiful Jersey milk cow, probably just about 3 years old. She had undoubtedly had a calf, but I don’t remember seeing that calf. I could be wrong, but I just don’t remember. However over the next dozen years she was blessed with quite a number of calves.
It became my twice daily job to milk Bossy and clean her pen and feed and take care of her. Since this was about 1933 and the Great Depression was now in full bloom, we all did whatever we could to save money and survive. Since buying hay cost money, my job was to take Bossy out to some neighboring canyon and stake her out through the daytime; which I was in Hamilton Elementary School, so she could just munch on some green grass, thus reducing the amount of hay needed to feed and to keep her milk level up. This meant I would need to get up pretty early each morning and get prepared for school, go milk and feed Bossy and then spend time walking her to some neighboring valley so she could feed during my school day. Then at the end of the day, repeat the steps but in reverse. We raised some Rhode Island Red chickens back in that canyon behind our house. We gathered the eggs and eventually ate the younger chickens which we raised. It was all about surviving during those years.
As an eight year old 3rd grade student, I was always embarrassed to let anyone know that we had a cow down behind our house. The house sure didn’t have any real architectural beauty, but inside it was quite nice and certainly very livable. Attached to the front side, at the middle floor level (which really was ground level up front), was a three room office which Dad used as his new termite extermination office. There were only one or two other such businesses in San Diego. One was named after its owner, a Mr. Swope, who had earlier been a partner with Dad in his business. It seemed Dad was able to get enough jobs for there to be enough income to keep this small family functioning and living fairly well. There were a few times when Bossy would get loose and come up on the adjacent school ground, always looking very pleased with herself. Perhaps she never knew what an embarrassment she was to this young cowboy. There were times when she decided to mess up the school ground so that the embarrassment level rose to insurmountable and dizzying heights.
If I remember correctly, I had Mr. French as my third grade teacher at Hamilton School. He seemed to be pretty good and helped us learn enough to get to the fourth grade. My cow milking was going pretty well and she was giving more than enough milk for all of our regular milk needs, also allowed us to have enough to be able to siphon off the cream and then to produce the butter we would need. I was given the job of turning the handle on the one gallon cream jar; which allowed the cream to go through the process of becoming butter. It was a bit labor intensive, so now my creative juices were welling up inside of me.
Wanting to be a bit lazy, and also wanting to use my creativity, I found a small ¼ HP electric motor and began to attach a small fly wheel with a pulley and then attach a similar fly wheel in place of the handle on the cream maker. I may have been nearer 10 years old when this innovation hit me. But the result was that it did make making butter much quicker and simpler, with less human energy involved. I was all for that, and perhaps that was the beginning of my desire to think out of the box and to invent something. I’m not sure. After all, to stop innovation, stops America.
Getting through the next three grades I believe was uneventful. I ended up with my third grade teacher, Mr. French, being my sixth grade teacher. That seemed to work out very well. During these years my stepfather was busy buying various properties in the mountains some 65 miles NE of San Diego in an attempt to become a cattle rancher. He started off very small with at first a 2 acre piece of land to build a ranch house on. Actually this started in about my 7th year of age and one of my jobs was to help find granite rock from any hillside spot and load onto a trailer so it could be transported to the area where the house would be built. This went on for a few months until we had enough stone to begin building the foundation and a very large blue granite fireplace.
In 1931-32 the house had been finished and this would be our ranch house in the mountains for the next couple dozen years. We lived in San Diego on Fairmount Avenue all year long, except for the when Mother, Chuck, Shirley and I would live in the Julian (actually Pine Hills) house for the entire summer. Over the years dad and mom were able to continue buying sometimes 150 acre parcels for cattle grazing, until eventually they owned close to 500 acres and probably leased that much more.
Our entrance into the beef cattle business was gradual starting with the purchase of some 25 heads of wild, white-faced cattle from a cattle sale in Yuma, Arizona. That was about 1935 during the summer and it was 125 degrees in the shade. Charles Boyer and Marlene Dietrich were filming a movie called the Garden of Allah out on the sand dunes west of Yuma. Actually it was more correctly the sand dunes of the California desert, but near Yuma. They were staying in the hotel in Yuma which we were staying and we had heard that Marlene Dietrich had fainted in the desert on this day, while shooting the film.
Dad was not overly educated in the beef cattle ranching so for this trip to Yuma we brought along a real cowboy from Julian, named George Hoskings, Jr. His father was named George Hoskings, Sr. and he had come across the country in a covered wagon; probably back in the early days of the town of Julian. George and his brother Henry were the ones who were teaching Chuck and me how to be real cowboys. Their ranch covered about 5000 acres near Julian and was a ranch that we would ride through getting to one of our ranch properties about 8 miles from our ranch house.
Julian was an interesting little gold mining town of about one block long and three blocks wide. It had nearly been the County Seat back in its hay day of gold mining during the 1860’s-1870. It lost the vote of being the San Diego County seat by some 3 votes. In that ten year period of its hay day, they talked about there being some 75 murders and stabbings in one year. There was a picturesque boot hill cemetery lying adjacent to the short downtown, and lying on the hill overlooking the town. Julian had one fairly good sized drug store, a couple of mercantile stores, a butcher shop, one church, a blacksmith shop, a two cell concrete jail and a number of homes, not to mention a school. It was a most picturesque town, which had looked pretty much the same from the 1860s to as late as 2000.
Well, back to our original cattle buying trip to Yuma, Arizona on that scorching hot few days when we were buying cattle for $25 per head with a calf. As I mentioned earlier we were staying in the hotel where Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer were staying. There was no air conditioning in those days. We had gotten the cattle divided for a larger herd and secured in a corral the first day we were there. We were just waiting for the brand inspector to arrive so the cattle could be transported across the State line into California. We waited and waited and waited. Being just about 10 years old I may not have used as good sense as I should have, at one point I heard cowboy George say the brand inspector didn’t know a brand from a scar.
So about the third day the cowboy types were all standing around, with an extra man or two in the circle, when I blurted out what George had said about the brand inspector. I had no idea the brand inspector had arrived some time that morning and was in that circle of men. He heard what I said and grabbed his bag and was going to leave and not inspect those 25 head of cattle. Boy, talk about the sh%$ hitting the fan. I was whisked away to sit under the hot cattle truck while Dad and George attempted to get the brand inspector to inspect our cattle. It’s kind of funny that those episodes stay in your memory bank well over 75 years, just as clearly as when they happen.
It was during those three days when we were in Yuma, first gathering those cattle that one fairly long horned cow got free and chased Chuck and me around an outhouse out there. She was going to kill us with her horns if at all possible. Even when we got her transported up to Julian and had her in the Clark corral, across from the NE corner of the Hoskings Ranch that she again attempted to run right over my horse and me. We finally got her horns tipped, but that didn’t stop her wishing to do me in. Finally, George took that mean cow away from us and put her in the 5000 acre Hoskings Ranch where we never again had to see her.
Life in those mid-Depression days was not all bad, but you could see many people were really hurting. It was somewhere in that same time period when the dust storms in the Oklahoma and Texas areas of the country were so bad that the area became known as the dust bowl. It was then that many people migrated especially from Oklahoma to find residence and work, hopefully, in California. It was at that time when the Californians spoke of the Okie invasion. I was always very careful to not let anyone know that my Mom was from Oklahoma and that we had lived there also in the 1927-28 time period. You just couldn’t tell what they might think.
As the years went by, Chuck and I became more and more involved in running the ranch and all of its property; much of which was separated by many miles. We built fences, doctored hurt animals, shod our cow horses, milked the cow, fed orphaned calves, dehorned cattle, cut the calves and branded all that needed branding So all in all it was a busy time with a few cattle drives interspersed. We really became pretty good cowboys since we had started so young.
There were times during those years when many rather precarious things happened. I’ll never forget one weekday morning, about 6:30 AM that Shirley and I had decided to saddle up one of our horses, named Heart, to jointly ride down to another pasture, about a mile away and catch a horse for her to ride. I was in the saddle and she was sitting behind the saddle. We were riding down the dirt road leading from our ranch home, when Shirley must have gotten her boots into the horse’s flank and old Heart began a ferocious buck that sent Shirley flying. I made the mistake of turning to my left to see if Shirley was OK when Heart bucked me off, but my left foot got caught in the stirrup and I was being dragged down the road with my head banging along on the dirt road. I suspect only an angel could have gotten my left foot out of that stirrup. I was unconscious, but somehow I was released from what could have been an awful fate, probably ending in the Boot Hill Cemetery. Shirley dragged me on my hands and knees home, and from there I went to be patched up by Dr. Fuller, the physician in Julian. It took him a couple of hours and then he gave me a Tetanus injection. I was awake for that treatment.
As we look back on those years from this vantage point I guess I could say it at first it seemed like fun. We had early on been taking over a few Shetland ponies which Granddad had originally owned; then Bossy, my milk cow. Then there was Heart who we had bought from a circus in San Diego. There was Laddie and Bay and later a few others.
Then after, we purchased the orchard property off of the Pine Hills Lodge property. It was about 8 acres, half of which was orchard and half pasture. The orchard had about 8-10 cherry trees of several different varieties, which may not seem like many, unless you were required to pick them. The other trees were mostly apple, some pears and perhaps a peach tree. But we would get between one and two tons of cherries off of those few trees. That’s a lot of pickin, my friend.
When cherry season arrived we were required to pick a ton or two of Bing and Royal Ann cherries and then travel the countryside attempting to sell bags of five pounds for about five cents per pound. It wasn’t really a money maker, but this was the Depression and we were lucky to even have cherries to eat or sell. Sometimes we would drive half way to Ramona to sell a bag of cherries for a dollar or two if you were lucky. If you ate enough cherries, yourself, you could produce enough gas to get half way there.
That cottage industry lasted from 3rd grade to college and Navy for me, and so did my milking duties. I, for one, an am sure I also speak for Shirley and Chuck, had enough cottage industry to last most of our life time. We all three of became good horse and cow people. Dad was a good bargainer and purchased 90 acres in the Pine Hills area for I believe $3200 and later picked up the other 20 acre orchard property for probably $2500. Then came the Clement pasture which abutted the 90 acres and I’m not sure what that cost, but we had rented it for many years for our ever increasing herd of white-faced cattle.
Somewhere in there we bought the Barnes 130 acre parcel over in Winola, then the 150 acre gorgeous parcel, known as the Sentenac Ranch, for $5500, also in the Wynola area. Later it was the 130 acre ranch in El Cajon Valley which I believe Dad bought for $1200. So actually this was becoming a real ranch, and we were buying and selling cattle all the way.
It was in those early years when I was about 10 to 16 years of age, that Chuck and I got stuck with all of the fence building on the various ranch properties, Some of the properties were already fenced, but several were not and we built all of those ranch fences of, barbed wire and cedar fence posts by ourselves. We would buy the cedar, quartered fence posts from the Indians on the Volcan Mountain Indian Reservations. There were two reservations there that we would buy from and then we would haul those fence posts on a 2 ton truck to wherever we needed to build the fence. We then would unload the posts, hand dig the post holes to 36 inches or more, plant the posts, compact the dirt and rock, string and tighten the 4-5 strands of sharp barb wire. That could be on a hilly 160 acres or a rocky and hilly 132 acres. It made no difference. It was all manual labor, under a degree of unvoiced duress.
As I mentioned earlier, Chuck, Shirley and I became not only good horsemen, but also good cattlemen. We started on the Shetlands, grew to the cow horses and sometimes rode the bulls, almost always by mistake. We started riding with some real old time cowmen of Julian. Norm and Tutee Grand, plus George and Henry Hoskins were some of them. The Hoskins’ 5000 acres of conjoined ranch land lay in two separate, but contiguous parcels, and we were fortunate to have them teach us what they knew about being real Western cowmen. The father, George Sr. who had come over in a covered wagon from somewhere to the East and always rode tall in the saddle and wore a six shooter. He was a great picture and an example to the younger cowmen of that era. We were blessed to learn much from those cowboys. George Sr. and his wife had a beautiful, white two story somewhat Victorian appearing home in the middle of Julian and overlooking the one block town. Their home was on a small hill and adjacent to the town jail, a two room, concrete block structure which had been there since the hay day of gold mining in Julian in the 1860s. They got about $10 M worth of gold out of the mines in less than ten years. They had a boot hill cemetery right there in the town and they boasted of having 75 shootings and stabbings in town in one year.
Henry Sr.’s two sons were George and Henry and they really took us under their wing and taught us how to be not only cowmen but good horsemen, too. We learned to rope, shoe the horses, roundup, and brand, cut, de-horn the cows and doctor all of the animals. We also went on many cattle drives mostly off of the Warner Ranch which was many thousands of acres in size. The drives would take about 300-400 head of range cows from Warner Hot Springs down the windy grade behind Julian to the desert below. It was always an experience. Norman Grand, the son of August Grand, the Sheriff of Julian was one of those cowboys who usually rode with us.
They would talk about earlier days when they would ride their horses from Julian the 25 to 30 miles to Ramona for a Saturday night dance, then ride back in the early morning hours and be back to work that same day riding the range. That certainly was a time in those Depression days that I will always remember. They took us on many a roundup and many a time of branding the cows and steers, and “cutting” the calves on whose ever ranch needed the help. It now seems like a century ago.
The Christensen cattle herd developed to near a hundred head over the next 8-10 years. Those cattle would be moved or even kept separated, depending on winter weather and snow in the Julian region. People are often surprised that we would see much snow in the Julian area, just 65 miles NE from San Diego and still part of San Diego County. The terrain rises to about 6000 feet at Cuyamaca Mountain and even the Volcan mountain Range. In some of those areas the snow could get to well over 6-8 feet in depth. Sometimes they reported it as high as 10-14 feet in depth. Of course that was well before Al Gore’s global warming.
When the snow would reach a foot or two on the ranch, we would have to haul in hay or grain to feed the cattle who were up to their waists and would not find any food to eat. We usually moved them from the higher areas to the Shangrila Ranch, also named Sentenac Ranch, or Barnes property at Winola, or even down to the El Cajon Valley ranch where it was much lower and much warmer. For us young and growing cowboys it was a lot of work and a lot of adventure. I suspect it gave us determination and taught us the value of work and even discipline in those very formative years. Lee was a hard taskmaster, partly because he had to learn those things early in life from his Uncle Louie, but probably as much because we were his step children and not his own biologic children. It does make a bit of difference. A little like some stray calf attempting to nurse a cow, not his mother. In those cases when we needed to get some orphaned calf to be able to nurse some resistant cow, we would make two leather neck straps and join those two calves together with a 15 inch metal chain. This allowed you to take the cow’s natural calf and hook her to an adopted calf, and then the cow would be forced to allow both calves to nurse; pretty tricky, eh? In time the cow would accept both calves as her own and the harness could be removed.
Mother would always be hoping to shield us from Lee’s harsh words, but that didn’t always prevent them from raining down on us. I think we were all quite scared of Lee’s temper, which could flare up very quickly. I don’t think he always meant to be very mean, but he hadn’t had the opportunity of raising any children of his own, and consequently he never developed that natural love for children. Because of that, it was a different situation and one that we were always aware of. Despite having said that, I believe Lee was able to help see we were cared for, protected and educated during those formative years. It was not a very easy life for Mother or for us children, but we all grew through it. It was easier for Mother and Dad after we had all gone off to service in the military. None of us ever really came home after that time, at least to live.
Back on the ranch during the 1930s, Chuck and I became pretty good horsemen and cowboys. When you grow up on a horse and around cattle you get a sense of how best to handle them. There is a quiet way to approach cattle and horses and then there is another way which allows the animal to know that you basically fear them. There is a fine line, but the cowboy that grows up around these animals begins to understand that there are times when one must be very wary, but always approaching the situation with a degree of confidence and compassion. The animals can sense the difference. Nothing is done in a jerky or overly confronted manner. Always being willing to gently stroke and speak to the animal, and then to sense the animal’s reaction to your approach. Lee certainly hadn’t developed that patience and when Chuck and I had to work with the cattle or the horses, we preferred doing that without Lee being involved. When he was involved, it always got worse.
Chuck became an excellent horseman and did a superb job breaking Bay’s colt, Dusty, and making him a great cow horse. Dusty, was Chuck’s horse, and learned to follow that calf, steer, bull or cow wherever it turned, when roping or just driving them somewhere. Chuck and I both became good at horseshoeing and would take care of all of those needs, unless we got too spooky of an animal, then we would let the professional farrier take over.
I became perhaps the stronger in the cow/calf department, but having said that, Chuck was also very good. From about 3rd grade on up to college, it was my job to milk the Jersey milk cow, twice a day. Occasionally, Shirley would take over those duties but she was helping Mother with the household duties. Shirley was a very good horsewoman and cowgirl also. I don’t remember her doing much in the way of calf roping, but when we had animals either to be driven somewhere or separate in the corral, Shirley did very well. When I left home in mid-1943 to go on active duty in the Navy, Shirley took over my milking duties and likely other ranch duties as well.
We had sort of a double life during those early years in that we lived in San Diego, during the weekdays of the winter months while school was open, and then during the summer months we moved to the ranch with Mother to manage the ranch. Dad would come up on weekends, but performed his termite exterminating business duties during the five day week. That was our bread and butter. The cattle and ranch were the investment for the future. It was during the week days on the ranch that Chuck and I could get most of the prescribed jobs accomplished and also get into a little trouble.
There was a time when Chuck and Shirley and I thought we might make a little money by staging a rodeo down in the orchard property. We charged admission and apparently got a few people watching as we made a total of 23 cents. In one of the acts we had placed a bucking strap around the flank of “Heart”, with Chuck mounted, and he got thrown off or kicked in the head, and when Mother came back from her roundtrip to San Diego for supplies, she now had to take Chuck to a physician back down in San Diego. He was the MD who was in Julian certain days, but this wasn’t one of them. A few stitches later, and harsh reprimand by Lee, and we knew we had done something wrong. I suspect we divided the 23 cents among the three of us as that would have been more “pay” than we had gotten all year.
There was the time when I went riding on my cow horse with the horseback riders at the nearby YMCA camp, Camp Marston over on Pine Hills. They had gone off on a two or three mile ride and when I found them, I rather boastfully galloped across and the field, only to hit a gopher hole and the horse and I went flying. The horse landed on my left leg and I got a real painful skin abrasion, but no broken bones, just a slight humiliation as me and the horse limped over to the other riders. They all thought that was some fun as they were city folks up for the camp for a week. This was the first real live cowboy, or at least he thought he was, they had ever seen. I think they might have liked a repeat performance, but I wasn’t about to do that again.
That evening when Dad and Mother came up from San Diego, I had to pretend I was feeling just fine and that Chuck and I had gotten all of the week’s chores accomplished.
There were so many memorable moments growing up in those Depression Years. In 1939 Nana Hart had decided to go to the World’s Fair in New York City and to visit Uncle Harold Brophy in Pelham. She had decided to take Chuck with her for the two weeks or so they would be gone. I’ll never forget that day. It must have been in about June-July, 1939, I was just 14 years old and we were apparently on summer vacation, except it was no vacation for Bob, just for Chuck. The grasshopper infestation on the 160 acre Barnes Ranch property was rather severe and we needed to do something about it.
Dad, being in Pest Control had all of the answers. We would mix up a mixture of sawdust, bran, liquid arsenic and water in a cement boat (For you who have never done concrete work, that is a 6X6 foot mixing bin that lays on the floor as you take a special cement hoe and mix the ingredients, sand and cement) and we will mix the ingredients with a typical cement hoe. Then we would fill probably some 50-70, maybe 100, gunnysacks, by hand, with the mixture, place them in a truck, and drive to near Julian and hand spread all of this mixture over the 160 acres as you walked over it.
The day started off with Mom and me driving Chuck and Nana to the train station in downtown San Diego for their noon train trip to NYC. Now, Mom knowing what was in store for me that afternoon, suggested we could stop and get chocolate malts at some parlor and then go home for a real treat.
So, now, Dad and I mixed the ingredients, placed it in sacks and drove to the Barnes Ranch arriving in late afternoon. We walked and hand spread all of that stuff until dark. There were no cows in that ranch pasture at this time. As I hand spread this mixture I could occasionally see clumps of sawdust, bran and arsenic flying through the night sky. Since there were not going to be any cows for about a month, certainly the arsenic would have evaporated or have been eaten by the hungry grasshoppers.
We now can travel home and have a late bite of food and go to bed exhausted and wondering, why me? Tomorrow will be another day for the ranch hand, Bob, while the 16 year old, Chuck is playing badminton with the Brophy children and enjoying the NY World’s fair.
About five weeks later Dad wants us to move eight, two year old steers from the PH’s ranch over to the Barnes Ranch where they will be fattened for two months and then taken to an early fall auction for sale for a good price and profit. The feed is looking good on the ranch where we had murdered the grasshopper flock earlier.
The following week Chuck and I rose early over at the PH’s ranch house and saddled our horses for the 8 mile trip to the Barnes Ranch. Actually, we would cut corners getting over there by cutting across the Hoskins’ pastures, which would undoubtedly save us a couple of miles and offer great scenery, but also offer these two cowboys some entertainment on the way.
We spotted a young 3 year old white faced steer, with medium horns, that we could rope, just for fun. Now, these weren’t just tame animals but were typical range cattle, but well fed. Chuck was the head roper and I heeled. When we got the animal subdued on the ground, we removed our ropes, let him get up a bit bewildered and we parted ways with him and arrived at our destination 50 minutes later.
As we were approaching the first gate of the Barne’s ranch, we noticed a curious sight. There were two large buzzards flying over a corner of the ranch. I suspect we both had an inkling of what that could have meant, but I don’t remember either of us uttering a word. We kept riding at a pretty good pace to where the buzzards seemed to be circling, and to my horror, I see a carcass of what appears to be a dead white faced steer on the ground straight ahead.
I suspect I got there just ahead of Chuck and looked for the possible PH brand. The steer was lying on its right side so the left side was up. The steer was rather bloated which made him look even fatter than he had become. To my horror, there was the PH brand. Chuck and I looked at each other in unbelief. I felt I saw a quick longing on Chuck’s face for a quick re-visit to New York, but it was only fleeting.
My first thought was of course the spreading of the grasshopper poison and a few clumps flying through the evening sky. Then I remembered I had placed a few cups full down rodent holes where cows would never be able to get it. But, then again, I suspected Dad was likely the culprit, but would he buy that? I didn’t think so. It’s amazing how much easier it is to tell this story some 70 years later, when Dad and everyone else is dead, except Chuck and I. Well actually Chuck died last Christmas, so it keeps getting easier to tell this story.
Chuck and I left that steer there and went looking for the others. They were all alive and would each bring a good price at the auction in the fall, if they made it that long.
Chuck and I rode back to the Pine Hills ranch and knew we were going to have to spill the beans to Dad that evening, that would be a very tough moment as his temper and temperature would abruptly rise on that fateful announcement. Well, that evening was not fun. I would have preferred just going to bed without dinner, which we all had done many times through those Depression Years. Dad didn’t get quite as mad as he might have, so we lived through that weekend and then he went back to San Diego for another week. I thought I heard him mutter something like don’t return if another steer is dead, but maybe I was just imagining.
Later that week, Friday I think, Chuck and I rode back over to the Barnes Ranch on our horses. I don’t recall roping any steer on the way over. I think we may have ridden by the 75 foot waterfall on the Hoskins Ranch where at times you could find some pretty good sized turtles along the water’s edge. I just don’t seem to remember. I suspect both Chuck’s and my minds were occupied with other thoughts. When we got to the property’s edge I didn’t see any buzzards and felt very relieved. As we rode over the hilly 160 acre parcel, and over near the Bailey Cemetery, on the adjacent property, I gasped as I saw a lone buzzard flying. I then saw the carcass of what appeared to be a dead cow. But was she on our side of the fence, or theirs? I wasn’t sure yet. Wow, that dead cow was on the other side of the fence. Could it be one of ours? Or was it the neighbors cow or steer? I wasn’t yet sure.
Upon further investigation it wasn’t one of our steers, but it was a cow belonging to the neighbor’s herd. Had we caused that cow’s death I just wasn’t sure. Over the next 6 weeks, Chuck and I rode weekly over to that ranch and counted all of the steers which had remained healthy. Maybe just one clump of arsenic laced sawdust-bran had taken the life of one steer, and I was proclaiming it was one Dad must have thrown out that fateful June-July evening as Chuck and Nana were on the train on their way to NYC.
Yes, those were the days back in the Great Depression when two mid-teen cowboys were learning the ropes and enjoying the good life on a ranch near Julian, California.
Because of Lee’s entrepreneurial spirit, it taught us many things too, but mainly how to fence pastures, build homes or barns and milk, brand, and dehorn cows and cut calves.
During those same years we lived during the school year in San Diego, proper, but then in the summer months we would be on the ranch in Julian which had become some 500 acres which kept my brother Chuck and me very busy tending some 70-90 head of whiteface cattle, better known as Herefords. There were times through those formative years which were rather tough. My stepfather was a hard taskmaster, always expecting the most out of Chuck and me. At times he could become rather cruel, like the time one of our white-faced calves had somehow departed the fenced ranch pastures and had likely departed for somewhere unknown. I’ll never forget Lee’s command to me, “you go find that calf, or I’ll wrap this pitchfork around your neck.” I had to believe him because that was his temperament. Fortunately Chuck and I located that calf a couple of miles away, or my life might have taken a different turn. There were a few other very similar situations which certainly have a way of getting your attention and to remain in one’s memory.
We attended schools in San Diego and all graduated from Hoover High School in East San Diego, where Chuck and I received our letters in varsity football. Several of our teammates became all American athletes in football at various Universities across America. Two of those great players were George Brown and Ben Chase who both attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Bethesda, during those War years and both became all American football players at the Academy. George went on into submarines in the Pacific and after the War came home and went through medical School and to practice in internal medicine in San Diego and to marry my high school girlfriend, Muriel Booker.
World War II and Beyond
WWII came along just as my brother was graduating from Hoover High School, but because of his history of asthma and his need to help on the ranch, he was able to be deferred from active service until some in late 1943 or early 1944. I would graduate in February 1943 and enter the Navy during my 17th year. My sister, Shirley, would graduate about 18 months after me. Later, Chuck went into the U.S. Army to serve as an enlisted man in the European Theatre, during the Battle of the Bulge. Whereas, I was more fortunate to be able to serve in the Navy and was able to get in the College training program, first as an enlisted man and then later as a midshipman. I had a short stent as a Navy corpsman stationed at the Corona Navy Hospital in Corona California where I worked as a corpsman assisting the oral surgeon.
Again, God had his hand on my shoulder as he placed me working with the only oral and maxillofacial surgeon at that hospital. That surgeon, Dr. Ed Durling, was brought into active service in the Navy Reserves, as was I. He was a middle aged surgeon who, I believe took delight in this young dental student being brought in to be mentored by him. Consequently he allowed me much latitude in the treatment of these wartime patients, many who had been brought back from the battle field areas of the South Pacific for some specialized medical or surgical treatment. Some were Navy or Marine pilots who had crashed landed their airplanes on coral reefs or uninhabited islands, after being in battle with the Japanese. They might have received jaw fractures or other serious oral and maxillofacial wounds which this facility was capable of treating. Thus my few months on this service, undoubtedly perked my thinking toward this particular surgical specialty.
It was following this that I was given orders to report to the Navy Unit at Columbia University in NYC and then be assigned to the four year dental course given at the NYU dental school. It was interesting that during those years as I got into the Clinic level, that the dean, Dr. Walter Henry Wright, took me under his wing to help treat cleft palate patients, often very young children, with prosthetic replacement of their missing palates and soft tissues. I was blessed to get that opportunity as Dean Wright was the pioneer in this type of treatment at that time. In another way, I was extremely blessed to be in New York, as my father’s brother, Dr. F.H. Brophy still maintained the dental practice on Central Park South, which he and my father had founded some 30 plus years earlier. Dean Wright had asked me upon graduation to head the Oral and Facial Prosthetic Restorative Department at Belleview Hospital.
My uncle had also wished me to take over his very excellent dental practice. I declined both and took my pregnant wife, Ann, with me back to California. In the midst of my training at NYU, I was fortunate to have a short few day excursion on a Class R-!, World War I submarine out into the northern Atlantic Ocean, off of Long Island. For me, it was a nice getaway. My cousin Ted Brophy was the Executive Officer on that sub and arranged for me to have my only overseas duty of that war. Of course I am joking, but it was a great getaway for me.
The Korean War
In any case, when the War ended both Chuck and I were discharged from active service and we both continued our education, I in dentistry and later in oral and maxillofacial surgery, and he in civil engineering.
After graduating from dental school and then going through an oral surgery training program at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, I was called back into active duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an oral surgeon, during the Korean War. I was fulfilling my Navy service when I was stationed with the U.S. Marines at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. It was an interesting time for me as I was asked to head the oral and maxillofacial surgery section in the dental unit at that base. The Korean War had just begun about a month before I was called back into active duty.
The base was bringing in about 18,000 Marine Recruits every 13 weeks for their basic training. It was a time of transition for these young men from their civilian positions as students or workers to an active duty in the U.S. Marines and to be heading over to Korea within a very few months. They would get their gear, go through medical and dental exams then start their training to become full-fledged Marines. Upon graduation from that basic course, they would head for more advanced training at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside California. This would be a traumatic and rigorous training schedule for them, but in the end they would be disciplined young men, ready for battle. For the most part I feel sure their parents would have to be very proud of who these young men became.
All of us stationed at that Marine Base, known as MCRD, had to feel not only the pressure of being disciplined men and women in the service of our country, but wanting to be the very best we could be. For me, as well as for others, we developed kinship with others in our Navy service and especially in the Medical and Dental Corps. Most were young men who had been just called back to active duty after having served sometime and somewhere during WWII.
One of my closest associates was another oral surgeon from Amarillo, Texas. His name was Dr. John Wyatt. He was a typical Texan. Somewhat slow talking and slower moving but an excellent surgeon. That first year we worked together meeting the needs of the recruits from an oral surgical point of view. After the first year, John was discharged and then the entire duty of treating these Marines for their surgical needs rested on my shoulders. It was an obligation and a challenge which I welcomed, but it helped to bring forth even more discipline and dedication in my life.
It was a time in my life where my wife and I were bringing forth our second and our third child. That made for even much more excitement. Robert Jr. was our first born, then Joan Brophy followed by Elizabeth Ann, who would be born in the Navy hospital there in San Diego. To say the least it was a very exciting time.
As the Navy Officer in charge of meeting the needs of so many recruits in such a limited amount of time, I found I was having to innovate ways to accomplish all of the surgical need which I was encountering. Prior to my being activated to serve at the base, there had been a career Navy surgeon attempting to meet the needs of the Marines at the Base. He was not motivated to getting things done and it raised the ire of the Marine General who was the Commandant of that Marine Base. They were finding that many Marines would be retained from advancing to their more advanced training at Camp Pendleton; their oral surgical needs not being fully met, thus causing the bottleneck. The General was mad and brought my Commanding officer, Captain Art Logan into his presence and basically chewed him out. How dare you not allow these recruits to advance on time?
Captain Logan asked me if I might be able to get things turned around. I told him I thought I could if he gave me the resources in space, equipment and manpower. His answer was yes, so now the job was mine to accomplish. We set up two different surgical areas, equipped the space with the necessary equipment and surgical instruments, autoclaves, surgical lights etc. It was looking quite useful to me. Then, I acquired 5 enlisted corpsmen and women to assist me accomplish all that would be necessary to do. I knew it would be a challenge, but if I could accomplish it, that would be great.
Over that two year active duty period I had ample opportunity to improve my skills in routine oral surgery solutions for a very large number of young Marines. Much involved the removal of teeth in this young population getting them ready for overseas duty in Korea. We knew we dare not allow any possibly harmful teeth to remain so we were involved in hundreds of tooth extractions daily. Besides that type of treatment, there were a fair number of usually benign tumors to be removed. Because of the large number of subjects being seen each day, there were a number of pathologic lesions that one might not see in a decade of treating patients in the private sector. All in all, it was a great learning time for this young oral and maxillofacial surgeon Navy officer.
I was finally discharged from active duty service 2 years later in 1952 and finally I was free to start my own private oral and maxillofacial surgery practice in Pasadena, California.
Originally, I was associated with an older surgeon, whose son had been a corpsman of mine there at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, but after a year we parted our association which allowed me then to start my own practice in Pasadena.
Those Early Years in Pasadena
As a young surgeon just out of the Navy, there were several advantages as some of the more experienced practitioners of medicine and dentistry felt that one you must be pretty well trained but also had some experience and thirdly you need some assistance getting a specialty practice started. All of those points were well taken. There were 7 others in my specialty of oral and maxillofacial surgery already established in Pasadena. The size of the town seemed to be correct for the number of specialists in my specialty.
Getting recommendations for hospital privileges was always a bit political and you could just hope that your confreres would look favorably upon you. Having spent the first year in a joint practice with a well-established surgeon would give me a time to get my feet wet and for other surgeons to learn a bit about me and my abilities. The son of the surgeon that I came to town to start with, knew well of my ability at the MCRD, as he had worked under me as one of my assistants for probably two years. I was very well thought of at that command as a surgeon who knew very well how to do excellent surgery.
But now in a new city, I would find over time that there could be some jealousy and one would be wise to choose his friendships well. I got on St. Luke Hospital in Altadena very soon and that became an excellent source of patient referral. I was most fortunate that my closest friend in pre-med at USC, in my same Navy Unit, was a Bob Mueller who had graduated in medicine at USC, then did his anesthesiologist training at the Los Angeles County General hospital, followed by 24 months serving in anesthesia service at the San Diego Naval Hospital, while I was at the MCRD. Our paths had crossed during that Navy service time, too when my 24 month old daughter, Joan, required an umbilical hernia surgery, and Bob was the anesthesiologist.
Fortunate for me Bob was one of four anesthesiologists on staff at St Luke Hospital so as I began to get busier in performing some rather heavy duty maxillofacial trauma surgery that I would always request Bob as the anesthesiologist of choice. It seemed none of the other oral and maxillofacial surgeons was very interested in doing much of the emergency trauma surgery coming into this hospital so about 95% of it fell into my lap.
It wasn’t always as lucrative as one might wish, but there was a real need and it gave me a chance to rub shoulders with all of the surgical specialists and other non-surgical medical specialists, which helped to establish my practice quite quickly, for which I was most grateful.
I found my sphere of surgery was broadening as I would be required to perform tracheostomies, all variety of open surgical repair and reconstruction in cases of maxilla-facial wounds, not to forget the various tumor surgeries which were being referred to me. I was finding in some of these cases there might not be a routine surgical approach, so I would have to begin to innovate new and variable solutions.
One are of treatment that I was pushing the boundaries was in cases of traumatic fracture dislocations of a unilateral or bilateral temporomandibular joint fracture or fracture dislocation. It was certainly an area of surgical treatment in which there was no consensus and certainly no satisfactory treatment modality. The problem could manifest itself in a host of ways from fractures of the joint all the way to agenesis or even tumors of the particular structures. But the most frequent was degenerative joint disease, just like we see in the hip and knee.
I had examined many patients, during my training at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, who had suffered trauma to the mandible and who then suffered fractures of the condylar neck, unilaterally or bilaterally. The usual treatment being recommended at that institution was the closed reduction with immobilization of the mandible, in occlusion, to allow the fractured condylar portions to heal in whatever position they found themselves in after the trauma. As I started my own specialty practice, after the Korean War period, I began to see a pretty significant number of similar patients. I wasn’t comfortable with not attempting to do what we now call an open reduction and skeletal fixation of the fragments.
As time went on I found I had a great deal of success. Was it a more risky procedure than the closed reduction? Yes, definitely. But I really did master that operation and in the next 8- 10 years I had probably operated some 75-100 such patients with measurable success.
With this background, it is easier to see why I began to operate on the degenerated TMJ, that didn’t have any fractures, but was deteriorating much like the degenerated hip or knee joint. The problem was there was no excellent surgical technique that gave any long term good results. We might do a disc removal procedure, but overtime that would cause more serious problems within the joint. Or, we might do what is called plication of the disc. In that instance, the displaced and somewhat degenerated disc was placed back over the condylar head, in hopes that it would stay in that position, and secondly that it wouldn’t repeat the dislocation or just plain wear out.
In my first few months of my solo surgical practice, I was referred a delightful older lady named Marie Appel who had not been able to move her lower jaw in over 10 years. Her bilateral mandibular condyles had rigorously fused to the base of her skull. There was no accepted solution to her problem and she was a lady in her late fifties, and without any hope for relief. When I considered her plight I felt sure there must be some way to help her. For her to be locked in a life in which she had no way of chewing foods, opening her jaws to sing, talk or even get sick to her stomach, made me feel there must be some way of helping her.
When I got skull x-rays I found her lower jaw had fused to the base of the skull in the TMJ area on both sides of her head. On the right side the growth of excess bone looked like a small golf ball, whereas on the left side the joint was fused but you could still see a remnant of a joint. Marie’s general condition resembled her jaw joint condition as her spine was terrifically fused causing her to be bent over with scoliosis. Her fingers, too, were fused in a partially closed position. Her life was certainly not what had been planned by her Creator and I was determined to be helpful if at all possible.
I had operated the temporomandibular joints of many people over my few years and I felt if I went in surgically and recreated each joint that I could give her a period of function and hopefully if she kept moving her jaw she would get by for a protracted period of time. There was no way of assuring her of this, however, and the effort to accomplish such a surgery would be great, especially considering her general condition. I would not even be able to get her to lie flat on an operating table as her spine was fused in the typically contorted fashion. That would even make the anesthesia and the actual surgery much more difficult.
I decided to travel over to Los Angeles and consult with an old time, double degree, oral and maxillofacial surgeon by the name of Arthur Smith. He had operated on most of the big named actors and actresses of Hollywood since way back in the period just before WWI. He was quite a character to behold in his somewhat disheveled, worn and cigar stained white jacket. He was a friendly gentleman and one that did generally seem to want to help his young colleague.
After seeing the x-rays, which he studied for some time, he turned to me and said, Bob, you will kill this lady attempting that surgery. That certainly isn’t what I wanted to hear. He felt this surgery was right at the skull base, and that to separate the bones in such a fashion was fraught with hazard. I certainly had to respect his opinion but as I was pondering the situation, I just was hopeful that I might do something to help this poor patient.
I thanked Dr. Smith and travelled back to Pasadena. I next made an appointment to consult with a very talented general surgeon in Pasadena, named Douglas Donath, who I had operated with before. I had the patient with me so he could see the extent of her physical condition as well as the serious ankylosis of her mandible, bilaterally.
We then let Marie sit in the examining room and we moved over to his private office to consult. He asked me if I felt I could do that surgery successfully and I told him I really felt I could. He agreed to assist me with her surgery, so we both went back to the examining room where Marie was sitting and went over all of our hopes and concerns with her, so that she would be fully aware of some of the hazards we might encounter in our attempt to free her frozen jaw.
Within a week we had Marie Appel in a room at St. Luke hospital in Altadena, with my good colleague, Dr. Bob Mueller scheduled to give her general anesthetic and Dr. Douglas Donath as my assisting surgeon. It was a great team and certainly there were others at that hospital, including the administration of Catholic Sisters who were not only very aware of this surgery, but also were in constant prayer.
We tackled the toughest side surgically first and after about 2 hours we had freed that side of her mandible from the skull base and had encountered no unusual bleeding or difficulty. The surgery allowed for the sectioned portion of the mandibular condyle to be re-contoured like a normal appearing and functioning condyle or ball of the lower jaw, to function against the skull base, which we also re-contoured.
We then started the patients left side and found it to be a bit easier. We accomplished the same thing for this left side and when we were done we could forcibly open her jaw to about 35mm inter-incisally, which was more than we might have hoped for. That patient recovered from the surgical procedure and was mighty grateful as she now could eat some normal foods, brush her teeth, and speak more legibly. I suspect she let all of her small town of Sierra Madre, adjacent to Pasadena, know of her miraculous surgery. I was able to follow Marie for another 8-10 years and she continued to be able to open her mouth, however not as fully as when we operated her. She was most thankful for the help she had received. I had taken color photographs during her TMJ surgery and these were incorporated in an article which was published in the Journal of Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine and Oral Pathology in the May 1955 issue. It was titled Surgical Correction of Total, Bilateral Ankylosis of the Mandible.
I guess I learned a few things from accomplishing that particular surgery and possibly most important was that if God puts some desire on your heart to be of assistance to some other individual, or in this case, to some needful patient, don’t summarily dismiss that desire, because you may have been called for such a time as this.
Over the next 8 or 10 years, I began to think about some other treatment options which might be out of the box as far as what might be the expected norm in the surgery field. It seemed like there were a number of pathologic entities, especially in what we later called orthognathic surgery, where some degree of innovation would be required.
There were several times where I had accomplished some surgical technique to place a person’s jaw in a more favorable relationship from what they might have been born with or developed after they were born. Sometimes these procedures would require placing a tibia bone graft in the mandible or maybe a portion of the iliac crest. I would always or frequently make a motion picture film of the surgery and these films would be shown at the annual surgical or dental meetings. Many were picked up for the film libraries of the Nation Naval Medical Center library in Bethesda, or by the American Dental Association film library. I would be asked to present these programs during the Annual, National meetings.
Always in the back of my mind was to find some better ways to replace a person’s teeth than the conventional partial or total dentures. I felt there must be a way to anchor a single tooth or multiple teeth to the bone of the maxilla or mandible. So over the next few years I began to think about what I might be able to innovate; but more about that in the next chapter.
Innovation is the Key
• The Circumferential Dental Implant
It was in those years between about my age of 35 and 40 years that seem to be my more innovative years. I suppose a person needs to get ample experience behind him so as to begin to know what works and where innovation and creativity are necessary. I had always felt there had to be some way to anchor teeth to the jaw bone as a tooth replacement and for improvement and substitution for the more cumbersome and awkward dentures which people without teeth were wearing. I had first given that some thought back in 1948 when I had just gotten out of dental School at New York University.
As the years went by it was even clearer that a simple method of attaching a single tooth or multiple teeth should be made available. The only technique which had come forth with any success was the so called sub-periosteal implant devised by Goldberg and Gerskoff in about 1950. It was a very cumbersome type of implant in which the surgeon had to take an impression of the mandible and have a laboratory design and cast a Cobalt-Chrome casting which was meant to cover the superior surface of an entire mandible and have four posts protrude through the mucosa on which to attach a lower denture. It was a remarkably complicated technique in which post-operative infection can torpedo the entire event to everyone’s dismay.
I sought after a simpler, single or multiple tooth replacement type implants, which required no earlier surgical technique or special laboratory procedures; something that would be pre-fabricated and useful in any patient at any instance.
My original dental implant I called a Circumferential Dental Implant and sought a U.S Patent for in the late 1958-1960 time frame. I placed them in dogs and cats as my own financed and accomplished research project with success, and then placed them in patients and made a motion picture film of the entire procedure.
The film was called “The Circumferential Dental Implant-The New Way” and appeared on the Annual Program for The American Dental Association occurring in Los Angeles in October 1960. The L.A. Times wrote a medical story about my innovation and presentation at that same moment. It made quite a splash with the American Implant Society which was having their meeting in conjunction with the ADA meeting. No one was aware of any of my work.
That was the original, individual dental implant in the United States. Many more were to follow. Since then the dental implant sales in the United States and world has soared to over 2.6 billion dollars annually, yet almost no one today knows of my early work in this field. There were more innovations to follow.
• The TMJ Implants
This next part of this chapter deals with my innovation of an implant to reconstruct the temporomandibular joint. It truly starts in the late 1950s and more specifically in 1960. As a successful oral and maxillofacial surgeon practicing alone in Pasadena California, I was being asked to treat many difficult and complex patient issues.
For some of the problems, there had been no effective treatment and I was attempting to think out of the box to be helpful to those patients. One area of surgical treatment in which there was no consensus and certainly no satisfactory treatment modality, had to do with the surgical TMJ problem. The problem could manifest itself in a host of ways from fractures of the joint all the way to agenesis or even tumors of the particular structures. But the most frequent was degenerative joint disease, just like we see in the hip and knee.
I had examined many patients, during my training at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, who had suffered trauma to the mandible and who then suffered fractures of the condylar neck, unilaterally or bilaterally. The usual treatment being recommended at that institution was the closed reduction with immobilization of the mandible, in occlusion, to allow the fractured condylar portions to heal in whatever position they found themselves in after the trauma. As I started my own specialty practice, after the Korean War period, I began to see a pretty significant number of similar patients. I wasn’t comfortable with not attempting to do what we now call an open reduction and skeletal fixation of the fragments.
As time went on I found I had a great deal of success. Was it a more risky procedure than the closed reduction? Yes, definitely. But I really did master that operation and in the next 8- 10 years I had probably operated some 75-100 such patients with measurable success. With this background, it is easier to see why I began to operate on the degenerated TMJ, that didn’t have any fractures, but was deteriorating much like the degenerated hip or knee joint. The problem was there was no excellent surgical technique that gave any long term good results. We might do a disc removal procedure, but overtime that would cause more serious problems within the joint. Or, we might do what is called plication of the disc. In that instance, the displaced and somewhat degenerated disc was placed back over the condylar head, in hopes that it would stay
in that position, and secondly that it wouldn’t repeat the dislocation or just plain wear out.
There were other procedures, and to be truthful the success rate was usually less than 30% in the first 5 years. Not a compelling reason for doing that procedure. Now came 1960 and Sister Lucille. Here was a young Catholic nun in her mid-thirties, who has had a prior discectomy seven years earlier, followed by a high condylectomy some 3-4 years later. Her condyle is now anchored (ankylosed) to the skull base with almost no jaw function.
Now what, Lord? “Physician, do no harm.” And yet both of the procedures accomplished on this young sister were accomplished by a very knowledgeable surgeon, who happened to be an orthopedic surgeon in the Central Valley of California. Was he negligent? No. He was doing the only treatment considered effective at that period of time. But how could I help this young Sister have proper, pain free joint function?
This was the challenge I was faced with that winter day in 1960.
Was I capable of improving the situation? I certainly had been recommended very highly by the surgeons at St. Luke Hospital as well as Huntington Memorial Hospital. But, would that be good enough? I certainly could operate on Sister L and get an immediate relief from pain and a greater amount of jaw function, more than a few weeks to a few months. The problem which would occur after any surgery, normally accepted at that time by the medical community, would be that the bones would grow together and she would be worse off after another surgery than if we had performed no surgery at all. Only God could really make a difference.
Either He would miraculously heal Sister L, or He would show me how to operate on her TMJ and make it well. In 1960, as I was driving from Pasadena toward Santa Barbara, God placed an idea in my head which was so simple, so perfect and so just as easily condemned by the naysayers. He showed me that I could take the ten human skulls which I possessed and could fabricate a metal, S shaped implant to cover the bone at the base of the skull; which was the superior joint surface, and the one the degenerating condyle would normally attempt to attach to. Wow! So, it was December 1960 when I began to work on my new project.
It meant I would need to place all ten of my skulls on a laboratory table, unhinge the lower jaw (mandible) and make wax patterns to duplicate the base of the skull in the area of the TMJ. It would need to extend laterally over the rim of the zygomatic process and have 3-5 holes placed for the screws which would be required to hold the implant in place. This was getting exciting, but could I pull it all together? If when I got the first wax patterns developed, what metal should I use to cast the final implants?
What made me think that I could make any of the ten implants which I would fashion to fit Sister Lucille’s skull base accurately enough? That was the biggest challenge. If, at surgery, I had her left TMJ fully exposed, and the new implant didn’t fit, what then? I would be no better than the earlier surgeon and she would have trusted me and we both failed.
Well it took me the next couple of months to fashion 15 implants for Sister’s left TMJ. I then had to do some corrective bone surgery to go with the implant, if I was going to give Sister a chance for proper jaw function. I decided to do all of this surgery on a skull, including the bone corrective surgery which would have the effect of lengthening that part of her left mandible and putting the articular portion back into the cup configuration of the new TMJ implant. It was all getting more complicated, but exciting.
I decided, with Sister’s permission, to make a surgical film of the entire surgery. I had fully explained the surgery to Sister Lucille and she and I explained it to the Mother Superior of her order of Dominican Sisters. We were now just three days before the surgery, when I made a costly mistake. There was an excellent general dentist, whose office was near mine, that I made the mistake of telling him about what I was contemplating. He taught Bob in 1959-60 at USC and of course had many colleagues there. It turns out they were having an office party that very evening, and my friend Dr. Ray Contino let his comrades know about what Dr. Christensen was doing the next Tuesday on a young Catholic nun named Sister Lucille.
There was a couple there that was probably not too friendly with anything I might be doing. Thus, on Monday early afternoon, one of those darling doctors took it upon himself to phone the sister administrator of St Luke Hospital to ask “if they allowed experimental surgery to be done in their hospital?”
The custard hit the fan. Sister had been admitted in the hospital and was awaiting surgery at 7:30 AM on Tuesday. She was unaware of what had transpired over the weekend and on Monday noon. Now, sister administrator found herself in a pickle. After all, Dr. Christensen had been on staff for about 8 years, had taken his rotation as head of the OMS department of the surgical staff, and was very well respected for doing a great deal of excellent surgery, and sometimes on the sisters, at no charge of course, but even the Catholic priest at the hospital.
She had to call me and explain I would not be allowed to do that “experimental” surgery in St. Luke Hospital and especially on a Catholic nun. That last part added by me. Won’t the devil attempt to stop God’s plan at every turn? After all it was God who showed me how we might effectively treat this type of problem; and now what? Only God could have orchestrated the next words out of my mouth. I said calmly to Sister, “I would like to go before the Executive Committee.” It just happens that they were meeting that very night.
Well, PTL. So they listened to me as I explained what I have just written, and long story short, they allowed me to operate Sister Lucille the next morning, and all went perfectly. The implant fit well and then it was secured with four screws. My assisting surgeon, Dr. Douglas Donath, and I accomplished the other bone corrective surgery and the patient was returned first to ICU then to her room on the surgery floor of St Luke’s Hospital of Pasadena, California where the first Christensen TMJ hemi-arthroplasty was accomplished this week in 1961. That was a momentous moment for future TMJ sufferers.
Over the next 15 years I had the opportunity of operating on hundreds of patients with a variety of TMJ problems. The surgery was proving to be more successful than I might have first imagined. I was on about 17 major hospital staffs in the greater Los Angeles
area and in 1964 we put on a teaching symposium on TMJ arthroplasty at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital where I performed a live surgery which was televised to about 200 surgeons from across America who were present for the symposium. That TV program on TV 13 in Los Angeles brought a lot of attention to the work that I was doing and was featured as a news story in a number of papers across America. TV Channel13 in Los Angeles recorded the live surgery and it was shown a couple weeks later on a prime time, one hour program called, “Surgery 64”. It was seen by likely hundreds of thousands in the Southern California region.
The patients continued to be referred to me from across the country and many of them had severely arthritic TMJs to where they had not had any jaw function or mobility for over 20 years. The successes were phenomenal and I give all of the glory to God. It was God who showed me very simply how to correct these problems. There were always the naysayers somewhere in the crowd of professional people, but the successes were so spectacular anybody really reviewing them couldn’t help be impressed.
I started a company called Implants Inc. back in the 1960s but I was just too far ahead of the curve. The public was much more attuned to why this technique would work, but the profession was cautious and at times mocked my attempt to correct the problem.
• The Transosseous Dental Implant
My next innovation occurred about 1964 and was what I called the Transosseous Dental Implant. It was an implant for which I held the U.S. Patent and was a dental implant which traversed the mandible in the chin area. I had learned earlier that the “Implant-a-band”, also known as the “circumferential dental implant” was not the best approach. It allowed, at times, for an invasion of bacterial infection to occur along the band and around the mandible, especially on the lateral aspect. It was obvious that coming through the mandible would be more successful. I began to design various patterns with a couple of different heads to see what might be best.
I might say that tackling and accomplishing all that I was accomplishing was taking monetary resources from my family as well as time. It also required that I develop a working relationship with people in the metal fabrication business. I also had to determine which metals might be best and then to find where I could secure limited amounts of that metal or alloy. This was a more challenging accomplishment than one might think, but I truly was on a mission.
Since my thought was to come all the way through the mandible, forward of the mental foramen on either side of that length of the implant was important and the screw thread area should be only long enough to stay within the variable bone heights in the various patient subjects. The thread size would also be important as the bone density at the cortical margins would have a limiting constraint to the diameter of the actual threads on the implant. Too large and they couldn’t be screwed through the inferior cortical bone region or would cause a fracturing of the bone at that point.
I had placed several of these in dogs and cats and had the opportunity of observing some of them for as much as nine years with total success. Like with every other innovation I had accomplished I made a surgical motion picture film of the procedures on patients and used those films at ADA and other national and even international meetings. Those films were very well attended, usually by some 1500 doctors viewing each session. This implant has remained very successful over many decades and could certainly be used as an important implant in our armamentarium.
• The Endosseous Implant
This was my most recent dental implant innovation in the middle 1960s. A very interesting thing was happening at this very moment. I had been referred a very interesting appearing gentleman by the name of John Acosta. On the day of his first visit for the extraction of a single tooth, my folks were visiting my Pasadena office from their ranch in Julian. I had been sitting in my private office talking with them, when John was ushered into a treatment room to be examined by me and then to have this single bicuspid tooth removed.
After I had extracted the tooth, he and I got talking about how the tooth might be replaced. I was really at the point where I wanted to develop my third dental implant innovation and so I mentioned that to him. I let him know it would be fairly expensive to develop such an implant. Out of his mouth came the words, “How much would it cost, Doc?” I let him know, I really didn’t know but at least probably twenty thousand dollars. He asked how much I would need to get started to innovate such a tooth implant. I casually said probably $2000. He immediately reached in his pocket and began to pull out a wad of $5.00 bills.
I told him I would get my receptionist to come in a count the money, so I found Beverly talking with my folks, so without any explanation to her, I just asked her to accept $2000 from John, then give him a receipt and have him back in a view days so I could see how the extraction site was doing. That was the beginning of my development of the third of my dental implants, which was the precursory of all future dental implants in the U.S. That was an industry of about 2.6 billion dollars at the present time.
Another interesting part of the story was this. It turned out John, a Belafonte appearing, young black man, who was very educated and charismatic, was California’s most noted drug dealer back here in the middle 1960s. Before we got done, I had followed John from his being incarcerated in the downtown Los Angeles jail to several maximum enforcement prisons in the Central Valley of California.
Another patient and man I called a friend was the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court who finally had John incarcerated. His name was Don Wright and when he came into my office sometime later, I said, “Don, you arrested and jailed one of my patients”. Don let me know this man was California’s biggest drug lord and one they had expected earlier had killed his own father, a physician in San Diego. Before I got done treating John A. he had paid me $20,000 and I had been able to develop and implant the first of these implants in John’s jaw.
It was designed and made like a sheet metal screw with a large screw flange. I had my first ones fabricated in Ti Al V (known as 90-6-4 because of its metal concentrations) and this became the precursors of most of the more recent dental implants. I developed it in several lengths and widths and then I developed a screw driver in order to place them in bone very quickly after a pilot hole has been drilled in the bone. This implant could be used as an individual, single tooth implant or as a multiple tooth or full arch implant. I made a new surgical film titled, “The Endosseous Implant-The New Way”. This implant was a great success and we placed hundreds of them over the next dozen years.
I required a couple of them a few years ago in my jaws and they have been so very successful. We have always been able to have the final crowns placed on them and they could be masticated on as soon as they were placed. These implants have started an industry that today in 2010 has a gross sale volume of approximately $2.6 billion annually.
• The Modular Mandibular Implant
This was my final implant to be developed by me in the mid-1960s. The cost of innovation and gaining U.S Patents was beginning to overcome my resources and so I decided to not attempt to patent anything after that. This implant was designed as a sectional or a modular way of replacing the actual mandible, or any part of it. Over all of my earliest years in practice if I were going to do an excision of a large portion of the tumor patient’s mandible I would either use a bone graft from the iliac crest of the hip, or a portion of the patient’s tibia or a rib graft. Then there would be times I would use some standard bone plate, like a Sherman Plate, and would mold it to make it fit the desired shape and proper length.
Later in the early 1950s I would take a thin sheet of stainless steel and use tin shears and drill bits to fashion a rather anatomically shaped implant to replace the patient’s missing mandibular section of bone. This technique worked very well but if for some reason one’s pre-surgically determined bone excision was incorrect, then you would be faced with a difficult way of replacing the missing bone, without going back to the laboratory to fashion an implant for later placement.
There was a very interesting 17 month old boy which I will call Baby T, who was referred to my because he had a fast growing malignant tumor invading the entire left side of his lower jaw. After a full examination of baby T, I ordered x-rays of his skull and jaws in a very exact fashion. I explained to the parent that when we would excise the malignant tumor, Baby T would lose half of his lower jaw. I, unlike most surgeons of that period, would wish to replace the excised jaw, at time of the surgery, with an implant and some graft bone; thus giving Baby T the greatest opportunity to grow and appear normal. The dear parents agreed and so I began by fashioning a metal jaw replacement implant out of a sheet of 316L stainless steel, in my garage that very evening.
There was nothing conventional about what I was doing or planning, but I felt it was the best hope of a great result. Now I would need some bone to use as a graft to fill in the missing bone within the new metal jaw implant.
I was in the Pasadena Rotary Club which was made up of some of the town’s most influential business and professional men. One was the head pathologist at Huntington Memorial Hospital. It just so happened that a local dentist had died that very week and was being retained for autopsy, at Huntington Memorial Hospital and the autopsy would be performed by my pathologist friend.
Being willing to think out of the box and to innovate whatever I could if it would help my patients. I boldly asked my friend, Dennis, if he would secure me a pretty sizeable portion of the dead doctors iliac crest, place it in a baggie and I would place it in my freezer and keep it at my house for the 10 days until surgery. Dr. Dennis was more than willing and the following week I performed the surgery at Hollywood-Presbyterian Hospital where everything went as planned and little baby T got rid of a cancerous half jaw and received a new metal and bone graft jaw. I saw that young man for the next dozen years, and he was doing very well. His dear parents were just thrilled.
Then other times I would compare the patients jaw and skull x-rays, which had been precisely taken, to a particular adult or juvenile skull which I had in my collection and then I would fabricate a wax-plastic pattern and then cast it in Co-Cr metal for use as the final implant for that tumor patient. These techniques worked well but it required time and effort, whereas if I could develop a modular implant made of implantable metal and or plastic that would be advancement in technology.
Skulls used as patterns for various implants
That is what I did and in the late 1960s I submitted the Patent for approval and got it as the first U.S. Patent accepted for approval for this type of device. It was about this same time that I was appointed to the position of Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery, in the Head and Neck Surgery Department at the Medical School of the University of California at Irvine. This gave me the opportunity of placing the earliest of these modular mandibles in a cancer patient where half of her mandible was resected. In my years teaching of 4th and 5th year residents at that University, I had the opportunity of teaching TMJ reconstructive surgery and jaw replacement surgery to the benefit of these early surgeons.
Actually, in later years as we started TMJ Implants, Inc. and a sister company which I founded called, Medical Modeling, Inc. we were now able to use the CT scan data to reproduce the actual bone anatomy of a given patient’s skull, spine hip, knee foot or any other bone anatomy, thus making the stock devices less important. Now we have the actual shape of the patient’s own bone thus allowing an accurate design and manufacture of a particular and precise implant. This was an early use of this technology in the reconstruction of a patient’s bone anatomy.
This following patient’s surgical procedure and implant was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and gives just a single view of the many types of situations these custom implants have been able to help.
What Brings Forth The Innovative Spirit?
What is it that allows a person to become innovative and what does that really mean? It is not just innovation the way we think about innovation today, but also goes way back in time when people did all sorts of great things. As we shall discuss a few people and what they were called to do, I’ll take you back to some bible characters that were called to do great exploits and be very innovative, courageous and certainly persistent and dedicated, even to the giving of their own entire lives.
What was it that allowed me to think out of the box? Was it growing up in the Great Depression? Or was it being a middle child of a strict stepfather and a loving mother? Or was it in the genes of my biologic father? Or was it growing up as a small town cowboy at a time of great need? Or is it perhaps my years in training as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon? Or maybe my military service years? I suspect all of those things played a part in my wishing to be somewhat inventive. But, I really think much of what happens is that God sees a need and sees a person who He can direct to fill that need and then He anoints that very person to fill that need. I have often said that it is almost as though God has placed a mass of geodes on the ground and then at some prescribed time He allows some individual to uncover the geode and open it up to find the beautiful item God had formerly placed within that ordinary looking rock. Whatever leads to that innovation, it is a miraculous event for humanity.
I frequently like to reflect on some of the biblical characters and see how they were motivated to do “good” and to frequently go against the common direction and beliefs of the time. A great place to start is with Abraham as found in the book of Genesis starting in chapter 12. You see, Abram, later called Abraham by God, was a human just like we are. It would seem there was little to distinguish him from any other man of that time and area. He was given a word from God and he had to have enough faith to accept that word and step out to go into some foreign land where neither he nor his family had ever been.
From my own experience when God has given me a word to either go into some foreign land or to start down some unusual and untried path, the choices have always been difficult. The attacks of the enemy will come upon you if you are attempting to follow the very path God has laid out for you. Many times those closest around you can speak some un-encouraging word that could derail the uncommitted. Sometimes I think the devil has heard about the course you have been asked to follow even before you hear. That may not be true, but I do know he is out to keep you taking the very path God has put you on to accomplish something which he wishes you to do.
For Abram, he was asked to travel to a land he didn’t know anything about. When that happens, you have to leave the comfort and protection which you may have enjoyed with your own family. You are now going into a foreign land with all of the unknowns. When you step out in that new direction you will have to believe in and follow what only God has shown you. That can be very scary, especially when you are alone and all of the attacks occur.
In my case, God was letting me get my feet wet with tackling some new projects or medical-surgical innovation. But it wasn’t long He calls me to invent the first implant for the reconstruction or replacement of a degenerated or missing temporomandibular joint. It may sound a bit simpler today some 52 years after I first invented such a joint replacement implant, but at that time it was very innovative.
Immediately after the Lord showed me how I might replace Sister Lucille’s TMJ, I was immediately attacked by the devil in a most ferocious way. Remember as I told earlier about having the hospital administrator, Sister, call me up and say she had been told this surgery was “experimental?”
The Story of Abram
In Abraham’s own way, he too was confronted with some serious challenges. First, he only had God’s word. Yes, but shouldn’t that be more than enough? Yes, but some of the challenges can occur later when you may be even more vulnerable. The whole vision is seldom given at one moment in time. Abraham had no idea that a whole nation would be founded by him, with God’s help. Look at that calling for doing something foreign and new and how it turned out over all of the years. The country of Israel has been brought forth, just because Abram allowed His God to use him. Did it all go smoothly? Hardly, but by just walking the path which the Lord is leading one on, something God has planned all along will be forthcoming; even though some mistakes occurred along the way, i.e. Hagar and Ishmael.
As I walked the path which only God could have ordained, we have seen some great things happen. Does that mean there weren’t hardships and heartaches along the way? No, by no means no. Maybe at times along the path we have seen doubt arise and at other times even confusion, but like an airplane instrument pilot when his radio goes out, just stay the course and that is what we have done. Some century from now, what God put in our hearts to do, may look even more wonderful and impressive. You just don’t know for sure, but the ticket is to follow God’s perfect direction and plan for your life.
As I contemplate what is it that brings innovation forward in a person’s life I keep feeling it is like a few roads all converging on one particular spot at one particular time. It is like a road called opportunity and another called experience and another called willingness or desire and perhaps another called perseverance all converging at a given moment to one spot for the glory of God. Perhaps I should have listed calling and anointing as part of that intersection as I truly believe it is the calling of God for a particular individual to be the very one that will bring forth whatever innovation is to be springing forth at a given moment. That may be an unusual description, but perhaps it makes us all think, how come this innovation occurred through this one individual at this moment of time.
The Story of Rahab
Let’s consider the story of Rahab. It is the story of extreme courage at a moment in time and I would hope would be a tremendous encouragement to all who are seeking God’s direction in their daily lives. Rahab, the Bible tells us in Joshua 2, was a harlot living in a home built on the walls of Jericho. Talk about courage. But some would say because of her perceived or known lifestyle she can’t be used for some great purpose. You are wrong. Here she is in the midst of the enemy fortified camp when two of Joshua’s spies ended up in her home. They were sent to spy out the land just as Moses had been commanded some years before. This was a most hazardous direction which God was asking her to follow. She did and it allowed Joshua’s men to overcome the city of Jericho.
God again tells Joshua that wherever the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I did to Moses. God told him to be strong and of good courage, and then God repeats the promise which He had made to their fathers. But now let’s realize the spectacular calling on Rahab’s life. Joshua, being the one called by God to be the leader, makes a smart move to again spy out the land.
So the spies have entered the enemy stronghold of Jericho, a walled city. The king learned of the two spies, and the fact they were staying in Rahab’s house and sent soldiers to capture them. Then, Rahab, secretly hid those two spies, but told the soldiers she knew not where they had gone. Not true, as she had taken the two men to the roof and hid them under the stalks of flax. She then let the spies know that they came to spy out the land, and that the Lord has given you the land and that fact has created terror upon the people of Jericho and that the people faint because of you. You see, like all of us, we are called for a particular time to live and then accomplish God’s good purpose.
Too many times we faint doing what God has asked us to do because some relative, friend or acquaintance attempts to dissuade us from tackling or accomplishing some new thing. Your fulfilling your purpose in life will very likely cause concern, consternation and outright rejection by some or all of those around you.
Here you have been called by God, and you somehow run into resistance. Too many times we will shy away and not tackle what we know we are to do. We might fail or be embarrassed, but so what?
The very thing you may be called to do will bring blessings to others just as in the story of Rahab. Not only were the Israelites blessed but Rahab and her entire family was saved from the onslaught of the Israeli army later.
You may be thinking, what do these ancient of days people’s lives have to do with my being an innovator? Most of what happens in an individual’s life doesn’t happen by chance. Oh yes, we can make some terrible choices and then sometimes if we don’t get turned around we lose all of the potential which was placed in our lives for the time we are living.
Let’s think about some more contemporary lives.
When we look at the likes of Henry Ford we will see the life of one of the world’s great innovators. He was born in Greenfield Township, Michigan on July 30, 1963. This certainly was in the midst of the horse and buggy era, yet God had a plan where Henry and the roads of opportunity and experience would cross.
Henry leaves the family farm in 1879 to work in machine shops, this getting him ready for his later career. In 1888 he marries Clara Bryant of the same Township and they return to an 80 acre farm. In 1891 he gains a position with another famous innovator, the Thomas Edison Company of Detroit in the business of illumination.
Early on he gets interested in replacing the horse drawn vehicle with a four wheeled automobile called the Quadricycle which he develops and drives through the streets of Detroit in 1896.
1893 Edsel Bryant Ford, only child of Henry and Clara Ford, is born.
1896 Completes his first automobile, the Quadricycle, and drives it through the streets of Detroit.
1899 Ends eight years of employment with the Edison Illuminating Company to devote full attention to the many manufacture of automobiles; made chief engineer and partner in the newly formed Detroit Automobile Company which produced only a few cars.
1901 Henry Ford Company organized with Ford as engineer.
We can certainly see in this shortened version of Henry Ford’s life that he was moved off of the farm to learn something about machine work, but that brings him to a point where he begins to address the need for a more efficient and faster mode of transportation than the horse. He certainly had attacks come his way as he had to resign over a dispute with his bankers in 1902
It starts with the original Model A in 1903, and then in 1908 they bring forth the famous Model T. That was a very efficient replacement for the horse and buggy. I had purchased, many years later in 1964, a Model T Runabout built in 1909 and was numbered 7500. I had it totally rebuilt from chassis up. It was very beautiful with all of its brass effects .Over the years they were supposed to have manufactured some 15 million model Ts. The last year was 1928 and I presently have a Model T Touring Car which I gave to my son Matthew, but which still stands in our garage.
Perhaps just that little description of Henry Ford and his life gives the reader the opportunity to see that some are called for such a time as this. Does that mean are we all not called? No not at all. It is a matter of being willing to follow the course which has been laid out for our lives, and then to live it to the fullest and to look for those opportunities which may develop to think out of the box and see what God can do with a willing life.
Henry Ford died in 1947 at age 83 years and having probably innovated more things in his lifetime than any man until the time of his death. What a legacy for a farm boy from Greenfield Township.
Let’s now take a brief look at a contemporary genius.
The Life of Steve Jobs
He was born on February 24, 2955 to two University of Wisconsin students who promptly gave him up for adoption. Can you imagine their shock 50 years later when his life reached such heights? He was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs and now names Steven Paul Jobs. Clara worked as an accountant and Paul was a Coast Guard veteran and machinist. The family lived in Mountain View within California's Silicon Valley. As a boy, Jobs and his father would work on electronics in the family garage. Paul would show his son how to take apart and reconstruct electronics, a hobby which instilled confidence, tenacity, and mechanical prowess in young Jobs.
Jobs probably never was a conventional student, but more of an innovative thinker. He was very intelligent and his early teachers always wished to move him ahead in school but his mother and father declined. He was frustrated with formal education. Even while in high school he was spending much of his spare time at Hewlitt-Packard in Silicon Valley. While there he met a computer wizard named Steve Wozniak, and engineer, and the two of them became friends.
His time in college was limited. He matriculated at Reed College in Portland, Oregon but only stayed there for a limited time. He was moved by a single course in calligraphy which opened his thinking along the direction which his life was being led.
His life showed some pitfalls to where he traveled to India and delved into psychedelic drugs. By the time he was 21 he joined forces with Steve Wozniak to start Apple Computers in his garage.
His brilliance was realized as he and Steve developed smaller and cheaper computers where every household could be part of the computer revolution. Their innovation not only helped probably billions of other people around the globe but made both of them very wealthy.
I guess in summation, I would say, Just find out what God wants you to do and then do it. That way you will be more productive, innovative and successful than you ever dreamed. Then don’t hold too tightly to anything, just enjoy the path that God put you on, at least for a spell.
As I was completing this book a couple of things were happening that made me wish to add this extra chapter. A few years ago I wrote a book titled, The Face of God. In that book I talk about what I felt God was telling me about the faces of little babies and children showing some resemblance to the face and love of God.
I had that thought over a span of several years before I finally decided to move forward with it. A dear friend of mine was Monsignor John V. Sheridan, Pastor of Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church. John was a man whom I had called a friend for some 60 years after I had performed some surgical procedure on him in 1952. He was now in his 92nd year and just as bright as he was in his fifties. Monsignor John passed away this year at age 94 and the world has lost a real scholar and I have lost a dear friend.
John Sheridan was an immigrant from Ireland in his late teens and one who was remarkably educated. I decided to ask my Monsignor friend if he would be gracious enough to write a foreword for my new book. He wrote a wonderful foreword and then said why not also include a few adult faces to complete the story. I did and then I dedicated the entire book to Monsignor John V. Sheridan.
I have for many years been very much aware of the potential which only God could place in any person, but particularly the young child. I have often felt so saddened by the fact that we sometimes do so little to encourage these young ones to really excel and to be the foreword thinkers of their generation. I also know that it would be unfair to make such a generalization against our teachers as certainly there are many very dedicated and creative teachers. But, I wonder, how much are they hampered from bringing forth creativity in all of their students?
When I see our young men and women going forth with their training and call to be the defenders of America, I am greatly encouraged that some great things are happening. In the discipline and at times hardship of military life, God can bring forth remarkable gems. These are similar to the hidden geodes which have been buried for centuries, but then at some later moment are uncovered by some inquisitive person and to bring forth such beauty.
So frequently we speak against the teachers of our children who may not appear to be doing as great a job as we might wish, but then, having been an instructor in a medical residency program, for a number of years, I realize how devoted many instructors can be.
Over the Easter holidays, I was fortunate to see some evidence of individual teachers, in some schools, making a real difference in the lives of their young students. A young person whom I know very well was encouraged by his 5th grade teacher, to think out of the box and to present some evidence of an experiment he was to work on as his school project.
I know the talent and energies of this young man and was delighted to be told of the projects which he and his class were to embark upon. I was particularly moved that this teacher, or teachers, in his elementary school were encouraging such direction and innovation. The project and display of that project was remarkable for its completeness, innovation and its being professionally displayed. I realize the young man’s parents had much to do with what I was seeing, but I was so glad to see the level of creativity and excellence coming forth.
I suspect that there is much more of this occurring than I am aware of, but it is in the encouragement for excellence and ingenuity in the home and in the school that will allow for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow to blossom forth. But, that is only half of the story. If the forces of society and or government don’t allow such freedom and creativity to occur, then as I have spoken earlier in this book, the stopping of innovation will produce the stopping of America.
We cannot afford to allow the current level of mediocrity to continue if we are to see America’s position in this present world be maintained and increased. Under our present administration we see the drive toward mediocrity and middle of the road thinking being fostered, which will inevitably allow for America to no longer be an exceptional nation. As President Reagan said, we are to be that bright and shining light on the hill.
It will take many of our people being willing to step out of their comfort zones and bring forth the excellence which God expects and which our founding fathers strove for in their newly developing democracy.
God Bless you, the reader.
Dr. Bob Christensen