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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

John F. Wood, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Monday, December 12, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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If one were to drive west on Highway 26, “The Sunset Highway” from Portland, you will soon see the rich farmlands of the upper Tualatin Valley - a beautiful and verdant area.  Slightly to the south are small little towns surrounded by berry farms, vineyards, and dairy farms.  Nestled in the midst of this area just east of the foothills of the Coast Range is the little town of Forest Grove.  It is the home of Pacific University.  It is also the home of the Forest Grove Hospital and Maple Street Clinic both inspired and developed by a remarkable Osteopathic Physician, Dr. John Wood.


Dr. Wood was born in Sugar City, Colorado, where spent the first eleven years of his life. His family faced the harsh winters, dry summers and isolation as they attempted to make a living in that bleak area of Eastern Colorado.  He attended a one room school with eleven other students, but when his father moved the family to Derby, California, he discovered that he was far ahead academically of the other students in his new school.  His father found work in the booming oil fields of Taft, California and there the family settled allowing young John (Jack) to graduate from Taft High School.  Jack then went to work in the oilfields himself beginning to accumulate money for college tuition.


After graduation at age 16, Jack hitchhiked to Oregon.  That summer he spent time with an old family friend fishing and hunting and later working the bean fields.  That was the time when he made up his mind that he would make Oregon his home. 


His college days began at Taft Junior College in 1939.  Apparently he had a lot of fun but soon discovered that his grades were suffering; though he did turn out for boxing, earning his golden gloves. He also participated as a cheer leader which entitled him to a letter sweater.  To earn money for his college education he began to work at a local mortuary and for a time considered this as a career.

His “wake up call” came as he failed a course in economics and sought the advice of a career counselor.  His stated that he wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t afford the tuition. The counselor advised him that there were resources to help him through medical school if that was what he wanted. As he recalls this in his memoirs, “The most important 30 minutes of my life”


After a rigorous summer of hard labor, Dr. Wood had accumulated enough money to enroll in Fresno State College.  He had far more success academically and after a time he became eligible to apply to the California College of Osteopathic Medicine in Los Angeles.  He assumed that his letter of acceptance to medical school would give him a deferral from the draft.  He reported for the draft and due to color blindness, failed the physical. As a result, he was ordered to report to Fort McArthur at San Pedro, California for induction November 19, 1942.


After many months of basic and then advanced training, his unit, the Black Hawk Division, was shipped to Europe just in time to participate in the Battle of the Bulge then with General Patton as the army advanced into Germany.  This was in the early months of 1945.  Dr. Wood has photos of himself and his buddies at Hitler’s famous retreat “The Eagle’s Nest.”  He came home in one piece and after a brief period, the Black Hawk was transferred to the Philippines. In May of 1946 he was discharged as a sergeant and awarded a Bronze Star and ribbons for his service. (His son Steve still has many of his father’s war trophies including battle swords and even a human skull.)


He married his sweetheart Helen Garrison on May 11 and later that same year enrolled in the Osteopathic College in Los Angeles.  He described his four year stint as a “blur” but still found the time to be class president and to be active in a local church where he was superintendent of the Sunday School.  He states in his autobiography that his years in the army and as a boxer were good preparation for leadership.  During that time he became friends with a resident in neurology, Sam Shepard ,whose life became the basis of the TV series “The Fugitive.”  He was a staunch supporter of Dr. Shepard and was convinced of his innocence.


He graduated in June 1950 and completed a rotating internship at the Los Angeles Osteopathic Hospital (located right next to the 4000 bed LA County Hospital). There, he exhibited an aptitude for obstetrics and gynecology and also for neurology.  He was offered a residency in either but opted instead to get to work.  The Woods moved north in their Studebaker automobile and joined Fred Richards, DO in practice in Forest Grove, Oregon.


Soon the practice was flourishing and the doctors were traveling back and forth to the Portland Osteopathic Hospital and managing to care for their patients.  Dr. Wood and his wife immediately joined a local church, and in short order became vital active members, teaching Sunday school and joining in other church activities.  Dr. Wood also joined the local Rotary club and served in many capacities in that organization as well. Additionally he was active in scouting and as a veteran joined the VFW (the Forest Grove unit bears the name John Wood  as its unit name).  Politically it was during this time that he served as president of the Oregon Osteopathic Association and in conjunction with Scott Heatherington, DO worked hard to educate their state representatives about the Osteopathic Profession and what it had to offer to the people of the state of Oregon.


In 1959 it became evident that the old building housing Portland Osteopathic Hospital was inadequate and the board acquired property and began to build the new hospital “on the other side of the Willamette River”, which in later years became Eastmoreland Hospital.  Dr. Wood and his associates felt that this new location was too much of a drive from their office location and so they decided that they should build their own hospital in Forest Grove.   The hospital founders were Dr. Wood, Dr. Fred Richards and Dr. Verne Jackson.  Each doctor had his own area of specialization – Dr. Wood’s was obstetrics.  To further that goal he took a one year residency in high-risk obstetrics under the tutelage of a Dr. Eby in Pomona, California. 


While training, he began to use a vacuum extraction device introduced from Sweden.   This device was a large improvement over forceps in extracting babies in difficult delivery situations.  It had one drawback in which it left a very obvious (transient but nevertheless alarming) spot on the neonate head  resembling  a large toadstool with hair on the top!


Dr. Wood liked to work out at a local YMCA and in the stream room of that facility he met an engineer whose specialty was molding plastics.  Out of their collaboration emerged the plastic Mity-Vac extractor cup which was even more effective and did not leave “hairy toadstools” on the scalps of newborns!   This device was a major hit with obstetricians and is now in use all over the world! (Interestingly the device was used in space by the astronauts – though probably not for obstetrical use)


Dr. Wood was an innovator in the field of obstetrics.  In addition to the extraction device he also pioneered the concept of a “birthing center” in the state of Oregon.  At the time there was an increasing dissatisfaction with the method of delivery all across the US.  In accepted practice, the mother came to the hospital in labor. There, she was separated from the father and family and taken to a delivery room where she was put in stirrups, sedated etc. until she gave birth.  The result was often a groggy baby and a mother with various injuries. Added to this was the risk of staph infections which were the bane of the OB department.  To counter this, more and more women were delivering their babies at home often ending up in the ER with bleeding, etc.  After study of some OB programs in other parts of the world, Dr. Wood, began to incorporate these ideas into his own practice.  He then proposed a radical idea.  The demand was for “home delivery” so why not have a “home delivery” in his home, the hospital.  With the help of the RNs  at the hospital and the support of the hospital staff, they designed a room that was as “ homey” as possible.  There was home-like furniture, soft music, even a bed for the father to sleep and be at the side of the delivering mother.  In this relaxed setting, often with the assistance of the father, the deliveries went smoothly, and usually the mom and baby went home the next day, far sooner than other hospitals.  As an additional bonus the infection rate was far lower than other hospitals in the area.  It was the first birthing center in the State of Oregon, delivering over 500 babies a year. Dr. Wood also trained and utilized nurse midwives at the birthing center.


From the start June 17, 1964 the hospital was a success.  Demand for services such as surgery and OB increased.  But from the very start, like so many small hospitals, Forest Grove Hospital did not have the strong financial support that these institutions required.  By 1984, HMOs and PPOs began to emerge forcing patients away from the little hospitals.  The board had an offer from Tuality Hospital to purchase the Forest Grove Hospital and the offer was accepted.  One of the first departments to go was the OB department, then others followed.


Today, the Forest Grove Hospital structure still stands and is being used for medically related purposes.  The Maple Street Clinic next door is still staffed by DOs.


Dr. Wood retired December 31, 1988.  After retirement he continued to be involved in his church and with his son Steve developed an artesian well on his property into a source for bottled water that is in use to this day. 


Dr. Wood died November 25, 2007. Dr. Wood was proud to be an Osteopathic Physician.   His contributions to the field of obstetrics and to the Osteopathic Profession will serve as an inspiration for generations to come.  He often cited the saying “The measure of a man’s success is how much he helps others succeed.”

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