Longtime Bemidji veterinarian Eric Thorsgard retiring after terminal cancer diagnosis
Family and friends celebrate longtime Bemidji veterinarian Dr. Eric Thorsgard, who is retiring after a terminal cancer diagnosis.
BEMIDJI — For Dr. Eric Thorsgard a life spent caring for animals and the people who love them is exactly the kind he hoped for.
Now, even though he’s leaving that life sooner than he anticipated, he doesn’t have any regrets.
After a brain tumor diagnosis in the fall of 2019, life changed for Eric and his wife Gerri Thorsgard as he was forced to take a step back from his veterinary work after 35 years. Then, in late February, they took another step and announced his formal retirement.
“No one ever dreams of getting a diagnosis like this,” Gerri said, “but we’ve had such an outpouring of love from our friends and community.”
Much of that support came from his colleagues and clients at Bemidji’s Animal Care Clinic, a veterinary clinic that Eric opened 25 years ago where he served as a veterinarian and orthopedic surgeon.
“Being a veterinarian has just been the heartbeat of his life,” Gerri said. “He’s always loved his profession.”
For those who worked with him, or went to him for their pet’s care, Eric has always been a kind and happy constant. His sense of humor and support for his colleagues and employees is something well known to everyone at the animal clinic.
“His attitude is always upbeat,” said Connie Berg, a receptionist at the clinic who has worked there for 23 years. “He’s just very easy to work with.”
As his illness progressed, Eric was unable to be around the clinic as often as he was prior, and his absence was something that everyone there felt.
“We all miss him,” said veterinary technician Kari Keprios, who’s worked at the Animal Care Clinic for 15 years. “He’s the backbone of this clinic."
A dedicated veterinarian
Eric knew from middle school that he wanted to work with animals, and after he went to school and opened his own practice he found that smaller animals and orthopedic surgeries were what spoke to him most.
“I knew from way back what I wanted to do with my life,” Eric said. “I loved helping with fractures, breaks.”
He even developed his own surgical technique for stabilizing the joint of dogs' knees in surgery, something that other veterinarians are now using as well.
“He made it just look so easy,” Keprios said. “I miss doing surgeries with him.”
Keprios shared a story of how they would listen to classic rock during surgeries, and how Eric would make a point to sing along to the lyrics incorrectly as they performed the procedure.
Another common trait those at the Animal Care Clinic brought up about Eric was how encouraging he was to those around him and the amount of trust that he placed in his staff.
“He’s a great boss,” said Jan Miller, who has worked at the clinic since it first opened and is now its practice manager. “We were a team. He relied on us and we relied on him.”
For many people at the Animal Care Clinic, Eric has been there with them through everything, not just as a boss but as a friend and teacher.
“He’s walked with me through many parts of my life, and vice versa,” Miller said, “we’re kind of family.”
Both Eric and his wife expressed their gratitude for their staff at the clinic, praising the work they do and the support they’ve provided to Eric throughout his time there and following his diagnosis.
“One of the things we are most thankful and proud of is that we have just the most incredible staff,” Gerri said.
Eric now makes a point to visit the clinic with his wife as often as possible, with the visits being something that everyone looks forward to.
“He and Gerri both try to come in whenever they can,” said Mattie Dicks, a veterinary technician who has been at the clinic for 10 years. “You can definitely feel the energy shift when they visit, we’re always excited.”
Even though Eric is retiring, Gerri made assurances that the Animal Care Clinic will still be around and operating, and that all of the other staff members will remain the same.
“The care and the staff are all the same, and aren’t going anywhere,” Gerri said.
Celebrating a life
Because the type of cancer Eric was diagnosed with is terminal, he and his family have been prioritizing the time he has left. He, Gerri and their six children have been going on trips and celebrating his life in every way they can.
“The life I’ve had, family, friends, all of that,” Eric said, “it’s been wonderful.”
Both Eric and Gerri have been able to come to terms with his illness, and are grateful for the time that he’s had and everything he has been able to do with his life: caring for animals, for people, and building a loving family.
“It’s a sad thing, but Eric really has had a good, full, wonderful life,” Gerri said. “He’s gotten to live what he loved.”
They’ve also been grateful for the love they’ve received from everyone in the community around them, including regular cards sent in support, and people offering to pay for meals when they see them out in public.
“Bemidji really has been our home, everywhere we’ve gone we know people,” Gerri said. “We’re so grateful to Bemidji.”
Seeing this support has made it easier for Eric, and he expressed how glad he is to know his family will be in good hands when he is no longer around.
“I’m so glad that I’m so blessed,” Eric said. “I leave, but my family is well and will be taken care of.”
For now there aren’t any more big plans ahead for the Thorsgard family. After a ski trip with their kids early in March, Eric and Gerri are looking forward to simply spending time in the home they’ve built and enjoying every moment they have left in each other’s company.
“When you’ve built your life and sunk your roots, you don’t have to go anywhere to celebrate the finale,” Gerri said.