2019 Health Care Heroes: Johnny Owens

22 October 2021

Johnny Owens

CEO and Director of Clinical Research

Owens Recovery Science Inc.

Johnny Owens is a physical therapist in San Antonio and the founder of Owens Recovery Science Inc. He is the former chief of human performance optimization at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Military Medical Center. He specialized in the management of lower extremity trauma and complex foot and ankle injuries suffered in combat. One of his projects, personalized blood flow restriction rehabilitation, focused on the ability to restore muscle quantity and quality in service members at risk of amputation. This program became the genesis of his company, Owens Recovery Science, which works with many professional and collegiate teams in the U.S., the U.S. Olympic team and leading health care centers. He has numerous multicenter research projects involving regenerative medicine, sports medicine, exoskeletons, blood flow restriction and rehabilitation of combat casualties. His work has been featured on “60 Minutes,” NPR, Time magazine, Forbes, ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in health care and why? I suffered a knee injury while playing soccer that required surgery and prolonged rehabilitation. Unfortunately, I suffered almost the exact same injury while playing soccer in college and went through the entire process again. The injury in college caught me at a time when I was confused about my current educational pursuits and career path. It was during this second rehabilitation that I fell in love with all things medical.

What was your first job, and what lesson did you learn that is applicable to what you do today? My first job was helping my father and grandfather, who owned an auto repair business. The first lesson I quickly learned was that I was a terrible mechanic and wanted no part of that industry. The second and most valuable lesson was the entrepreneurial drive and desire to one day have my own business as they did.

Tell us about a patient or a case that upon reflection explains “this is why I do what I do.” I spent a large portion of my career with the Department of Defense here in San Antonio during the wars. I was primarily focused on sports medicine, which was my background. However, one day a scientist from the Institute of Surgical Research next door asked if I could do some strength assessments with a special machine we had in my program on a young Marine who had lost the majority of his thigh muscle to a blast. They wanted to track how he would never regain strength no matter what we did and the correlation to a loss of independence. I became obsessed with his case and began to work with the scientists on any potential solutions. Years later, we were featured on “60 Minutes” for our ability to regrow his lost tissue and restore his function. My entire career shifted from sports to the combat casualty.

What characteristics or traits must a person have or cultivate to effectively work in health care? You must have empathy. You will never understand your patient’s journey because it is always personal to them, but you must be sensitive and aware of their feelings and what you can bring to assist in their recovery. Even if you do not have a medical solution, the human interaction is so important, and each health care provider-to-patient moment should be handled with empathy in mind.