Thomas E. Sooy, a longtime Catonsville veterinarian, died from complications following a bone marrow stem cell transplant Oct. 9 in Seattle. He was 58.
Dr. Sooy, who lived in Ellicott City, was born March 4, 1952, in Livingston, Mont., where he participated in athletics and the Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout at age 13.
His interest in veterinary medicine began after a Cub Scouts field trip. His mother was surprised by the announcement because he was allergic to animal dander, said his wife of more than 38 years and high school sweetheart, the former Diane Schultz.
Dr. Sooy graduated from Park Senior High School in 1970 and attended Montana State University before joining the Navy in 1973. Trained as a corpsman and a medical/research technician, he served at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington. He received a bachelor's degree in microbiology from the University of Maryland in 1977.
Dr. Sooy considered different career pursuits, including physical therapy and medical technology, before returning to veterinary medicine, eventually finding motivation in a friend who was one of the few women working as a veterinarian at that time.
Shortly before he was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Dr. Sooy used his health challenges as inspiration to finish the program, refusing to postpone his studies.
"He was sitting in classrooms going through labs at a time when he probably should have been getting blood transfusions," his wife said. "That was evidence of his determination and focus."
Dr. Sooy graduated from Penn in 1983. He worked briefly in a private practice before completing an internship at Rowley Memorial Animal Hospital in Springfield, Mass., followed by a two-year residency in small animal surgery at the University of Wisconsin.
He moved to the Baltimore area in 1987 and worked in a veterinary hospital for a year before opening his own practice in Catonsville — the Maryland Veterinary Surgical Service — which he operated for 22 years before he sold it earlier this year. Dr. Sooy retired in July.
"He loved veterinary medicine, loved animals," his wife said. "This was a man who could watch a movie with a high body count and not flinch, but any movie where an animal was hurt or killed — that was too painful for him to watch."
He loved whippets, a breed of dog that resembles a small greyhound. Dr. Sooy belonged to the American Whippet Club and Potomac Hound Club. He also supported the work of the Whippet Rescue group. His own dog, an elderly whippet, "had the benefit of a full-time personal veterinarian," his wife said.
Brigitte Greenberg, the Maryland representative to the national Whippet Rescue and Placement group, had Dr. Sooy perform all major surgeries on her own dogs. He also did dozens of volunteer surgeries for the rescue group, she said.
"He did it all pro bono," Greenberg said. "He did it just because he loved the breed. He really never asked for much of anything. It was a great relationship that we had with him."
In addition to his love for animals, Dr. Sooy was an avid sports fan, a passion that he shared with his father and son, Collier, 23, of Ellicott City. His wife said he would have been horrified about the timing of his upcoming memorial service; it coincides with the Baltimore Ravens' kickoff against the Miami Dolphins. A friend suggested they all wear purple, she said.
Dr. Sooy's cancer battle 30 years ago caused him to develop myelodysplastic syndromes, a bone marrow disorder, his wife said.
The chemotherapy and radiation damaged his heart and bone marrow. She described him as "so philosophical" about his health challenges, saying that he took solace in being able to practice a career that he loved, build a successful business and raise his son to adulthood.
"Tom was never one to whine throughout his health issues," she said. Though he knew that he was a high-risk candidate for surgery, "it was not in him not to try."
In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Sooy is survived by his sisters Kathleen Dotson of Little Rock, Ark., and Peggy Ryckman of Thornton, Colo.; an aunt, several nieces, nephews, and cousins.
A memorial gathering will be held Nov. 7 at the Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road in Woodstock at 1 p.m.