He finished up some science classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and applied to medical schools and veterinary
schools. After much thought, talking with veterinarians, doctors and his family, Cook decided on veterinary school.
He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1994 and went straight to a small-animal
internship at the University of Minnesota and then to a residency back at Missouri.
During veterinary school, Cook did research to help pay the bills and met Eileen Hassor.
"She inspired me in the realm of research," he says. "So when I came back to Mizzou for my residency, I pursued setting up
a combined doctorate program."
With some help from Dr. John Kreeger, Cook received a doctorate in pathobiology. "This was the first step in pursuing my childhood
dream, as my dissertation work was in developing a system to culture chondrocytes in pursuit of 'growing cartilage' and making
biologic total joint replacements."
After his residency, Cook also took and passed the boards for the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. He was included
as a charter diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Today, Cook is the William and Kathryn Allen Distinguished professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and director of the Comparative
Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri.
"I have the best team in the whole world, and we have such fun working together," Cook says, adding when at clinics he usually
performs 12 to 20 surgeries—primarily on dogs, but also cats—a week. "We also do some unique surgeries for zoos, rescue groups,
NASA, etc., where we have worked on snow leopards, tigers, chimps, otters, eagles, falcons and coyotes," he says.
At the same time, Cook and his team also have about 15 to 20 research projects going on in the lab.
The team includes the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery (human) at the University
of Missouri, plus primary collaborators from Dr. Clark Hung's laboratory at Columbia University in New York City.
"We have doctors, veterinarians, PhDs, fellows, residents, interns, professional students, graduate students and technicians—plus
there are molecular biologists, pathologists and engineers," he says.
So far, knees and shoulders have been replaced in research dogs and rabbits, with the team working on replacing hips in research
dogs now. "In the clinical patients, I have done two knees, an elbow and a hock," he says.
Cook and his team also were funded by NFL Charities to see if they can use ultrasonography to make on-the-field diagnoses
for meniscal problems. The ultrasonography would deliver answers quicker and be more cost-effective than an MRI, which is
currently used, he says.
Cook and his wife, Dr. Cristi Cook, developed the technique and have used ultrasound to diagnose meniscal problems in dogs.
"(We) have shown it to be the standard for diagnostic imaging of the menisci in dogs and proven its clinical utility. We are
now applying that veterinary tool to humans," he says.
Despite the long hours, Cook says he loves his job.
He has traveled all over the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada and Brazil for presentations, lectures, labs and meetings
about his team's clinical and research work in orthopedics for humans and animals.
"I always say I have the best job in the whole world, because I get to do research, teach and practice orthopedics that change
lives, medicine and science for people and animals," he says.
Helping patients—whether they are four-legged or two-legged—keeps him coming back every day. "And," he adds, "trying to do
better for the millions of people, like my grandpa, who suffer from debilitating arthritis."
Ms. Fellenstein is a freelance writer in Cleveland.