When Army Lt. Col. Owen Johnson thinks back to his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the plastic surgeons stand out the most.
“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their peak, and we were getting injured soldiers flown to us from Germany every week,” he recalled. “What really impressed me and struck me were the reconstructive surgeons, putting these guys back together or salvaging their extremities.
“Body armor is pretty good, so our survival rates have been the highest in history. But what you get is patients who are alive but severely disfigured and injured. There are incredibly skilled and passionate plastic surgeons closing the loop on patients injuries after they go through the life-threatening stuff.”
After observing their work, the fledgling doctor knew what path he would take in his medical career.
Newly stationed at Fort Carson, Johnson’s hope is to establish a plastic surgery clinic at Evans Army Community Hospital similar to the one he set up at Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss in Texas, where he performed a first-of-its-kind surgery, growing and transplanting a new ear for a soldier who lost one in a motorcycle accident.
“By the time I left El Paso, we had gone from zero plastic surgery capability to being a very busy service, with three full-time plastic surgeons doing a lot of good work. I wanted the opportunity to come here and do it again, create a program from scratch and grow it into something big.”
He’s made his mark, by sealing the leg wound of a combat-injured Fort Carson soldier with a revolutionary new paste, mixed with the patient’s skin cells. That allowed for the regrowth of skin within weeks. As a result, the soldier has been returned to duty, and to near normalcy.
It’s the first time the technology has been used in a military trauma patient, Johnson said.
“He was facing the worst-case scenario, an amputation of his foot, and not only did we prevent that from happening, but he has essentially normal function,” Johnson said. “He’s been in the service for a long time, somewhere around 16, 17 years. He’s a very patriotic guy doing a dangerous job. He wanted to go back to active duty, if we could get him there.
The work changed the soldier’s daily life.
“The fact that he can put on a sock, a shoe, a boot and do his job — he’s very, very happy.”
In addition to working on trauma patients, Johnson hopes to perform a relatively new surgery on soldiers who suffer from migraine headaches that relieves compression on problematic nerves.
“I’m looking to work every day to expand the services we offer here,” he said.