Port Arthur orthopedic surgeon keeps athletes in the game

Photo by Kevin King

There’s a lot to look at when entering a new doctor’s office: photos of the family, wall art and perhaps a few old magazines. And then there’s the doctor himself. Wait. Are those sandals?

When Dr. Jack Johnston of the Beaumont Bone and Joint Institute walks into his office at 2501 Jimmy Johnson Boulevard in Port Arthur, probably what will surprise first-time patients the most is the footwear selection of the physician. Don’t expect to see traditional, white hospital shoes when Dr. Johnston enters the exam room.

“In college, after I decided to go into medicine, I began working in an emergency room at Swedish Hospital in Seattle as an ER tech,” Dr. Johnston explained. “They made me … wear white pants and white tennis shoes, and it was pretty much accepted in the medical field, you are going to wear white tennis shoes.

“I hated white tennis shoes.”

Johnston promised himself he’d never have a job where someone could dictate what kind of clothing he was going to wear.

His current footwear of choice? Mark Nason sandals.

“I can’t wear my open-toed shoes in the operating room,” he clarified. “In the operating room, I wear my fishing boots.”

Johnston also has about 50 different surgical caps with decorations ranging from tie-dye to soccer balls to Hawaiian print, and one for nearly every holiday imaginable.

As his style suggests, Johnston is laid back, personable and likes to make his patients feel comfortable.

The Lamar University Women’s Soccer team, for which he serves as team physician, has even given him an affectionate nickname – Dr. Jandals, a combination of his last name and the word “sandals” that is also a slang word for flip-flops.

“We noticed that he was wearing the type of sandals that are popular for our age group and the name stuck,” said Flower Mound native A.V. Vigil, a junior midfielder Johnston helped recover from a torn ACL.

All joking aside, Dr. Johnston is an invaluable asset to the team, said Lauren Olson, graduate assistant athletic trainer for Lamar University Women’s Soccer.

“He’s absolutely irreplaceable,” she said. “The great thing about him is he cares about these kids. He takes the time to get to know them. He comes to games and checks on them. He asks questions about their life outside of what hurts or what happened.”

Johnston said he chose to specialize in sports medicine because he loves helping patients who are injured return to the field.

“Sports medicine allows me to treat younger people who just want to get better. Once they have recovered, they are appreciative, and say, ‘I never want to see you again,’ and I say, ‘Likewise,’” he said, contrasting the joy of seeing an athlete recover as a sports orthopedic surgeon to that of an orthopedic trauma surgeon, who must treat patients whose life is often permanently altered following their accidents. “I truly fix them, and they go play the sport they love to play. It’s really the only field that I feel you can do that.”

Dr. Johnston, who is also team physician for the Lamar State College Port Arthur Seahawk athletic program, can relate to his athletes wanting to get better. He injured his back while playing basketball in high school and wasn’t properly treated for the injury until his freshman year in college.

“I would stand at the back of the room during class because it hurt to sit down. I would sleep on the floor in my dorm room with my feet propped up on the bed,” Johnston recounted.

Finally, after months of pain, Johnston went to see an orthopedic surgeon, who helped him recover after back surgery, changing his life for the better. Then came an epiphany for Johnston — sports medicine would be the path he would take in his medical studies, to help athletes and non-athletes alike recover from injury.

Lamar soccer player Pamela McFarland, a freshman defender from Jasper, said Dr. Johnston helped her recover from a torn meniscus and ACL on her right leg. She said what sets Johnston apart from other doctors is he doesn’t make his patients wait.

“He gets you in quick,” she said. “He explains everything really well, too. He told me how he was going to help me get better. I had surgery a month after I tore it, and we’ve been doing follow-ups. I plan to come back in the fall and play,” she said.

Johnston also helped Lamar freshman and former Port Neches-Groves track athlete Jacie Vaughan recover from an injury she suffered while playing powderpuff football.

“I was running, trying to guard another girl that had the ball, and I went to turn the opposite direction. My foot stayed planted, but my knee turned the opposite way,” she said.

Vaughn went to see Johnston and, after having an MRI, found out she had a torn ACL and meniscus and needed surgery.

“I tore my ACL going into the summer before my senior year and, by track season, he had pushed me hard enough that I was able to run and actually placed in district,” she said. “I wasn’t ever expecting to run track again, much less do that well.”

But Johnston’s aid to Vaughn didn’t stop there. He found out Vaughn had an interest in his profession while treating her.

“I wasn’t able to work out or run or anything, so I talked to him about getting a job because I wanted to either pursue nursing or physical therapy,” she said.

While undergoing physical therapy, Vaughn started working part-time for Johnston.

“It was helpful because I was seeing it from both sides,” she said. “I watched an ACL surgery and others. During surgeries, he was talking me through them, showing me what different things were, showing me different parts of the body and surgical tools.”

Vaughn said if it weren’t for Dr. Johnston’s mentorship, she likely would not have decided to pursue a career in medicine. She is currently attending Lamar University on a nursing scholarship and continues to work at Dr. Johnston’s office.

Olson said Johnston was a mentor to her as well.

“Since working with him, I’ve decided I want to work as an athletic trainer directly for a physician,” said Olson. “He answers any question I have and lets me watch his surgeries. He’s been awesome.”

Olson, who after graduating with her Master of Science in Kinesiology will be moving back to Wisconsin, said she would miss working with Dr. Johnston. There isn’t another physician like him, she said.

“Coming back from an injury can be a really long process. It’s really hard, especially mentally,” Olson said. “The girls get so excited when they go to see Dr. J. He’s so fun to just be around. Every kid always walks out of his office smiling.”

In addition to orthopedic surgical training, Johnston completed a sports medicine fellowship at Southern Californian Center for Sports Medicine.

Johnston and his wife of 12 years, Jessica, have three children: sons Jett, 11, and Brooks, 6, and daughter, Mya, 10. For more information on Dr. Jack Johnston and his practice, call (409) 729-5633.