Ties that bind

For physical therapists, friendship is good therapy

Physical therapists Julie Johnson and Jill Reyes have the education and drive it takes to succeed in sports medicine at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. They also have something else — each other.

Johnson and Reyes both started working with the Children’s Healthcare sports medicine program in 2005 and have always practiced at different clinics. But in 2007, their paths crossed and they have been fast friends ever since.

“That year we took a weeklong course to become first-responders through the Red Cross in Nashville,” said Johnson,  MPT, SCS, CSCS, clinical manager at Children’s Healthcare at Meridian Mark in Atlanta.

“It was a very interactive course, with labs and CPR training. At night, there were workbook assignments to complete. We began working together and discovered that we both loved our jobs, working with kids and soccer. It was a fun week.”

Once they became friends , it was inevitable that Johnson would ask Reyes to join her  Greater Atlanta Women’s Soccer Association team. Reyes reciprocated by recruiting Johnson to play coed soccer with a team in the Atlanta Club Sport league.

It was in that coed soccer league that Johnson met her husband, Eric, whom she  married   in 2010.

“I was a bridesmaid, and my son, Bennett, was the ring bearer at six months. My husband, David, carried him down the aisle,” said Reyes, PT, DPT, SCS, clinical site leader at Children’s Healthcare at Webb Bridge in Alpharetta. “Our families often do things together, but kids have put a wrench in the soccer-playing for now.”

Their friendship extends beyond the soccer pitch. The  families live about 15 minutes apart and their children attend the same child care center.

“Since we’re both working moms, our leisure time revolves around the kids,” Johnson said. “We might run errands together, go to the park or just get together at someone’s house for play dates.”

Reyes  is expecting a second son this month, and Johnson has a daughter, Claire, 18 months.

Helping young athletes recover

For Johnson and Reyes, work is another common bond. Both women describe themselves as “Type A” physical therapists, meaning that they take pride in their work, are goal oriented and demand a lot of themselves both in and out of the clinic.

Johnson, who was promoted to clinical manager last year, co-founded the Children’s Sports Medicine ACL prevention program and co-wrote “Performance Enhancement for Soccer,” published with the NRH Regional Rehab Sports Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Reyes is a sports-certified therapist and an adjunct professor with the department of rehabilitation medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

At Children’s, their focus is on adolescent athletes (ages 7 to 21) who they see for overuse injuries, ACL tears and postsurgical rehabilitation.

“I love working with kids who, for the most part, are very hard workers and are driven to get back to sports participation. They respond well to challenges and encouragement,” Johnson said. “Helping children return to pre-injury level of function and meet their goals is always rewarding.”

“We genuinely care about our patients and we pour ourselves into our work,” Reyes said. “I started here as a new graduate seven years ago, and have seen the department grow and work as a team together. This is a great organization and I really appreciate having managers who support me as a person and a colleague.”

Having a common profession deepens their friendship.

“It’s so nice to have a close friend to talk to about a patient when you are running out of ideas. Jill’s not afraid to tell me what she thinks, and I respect her opinion,” Johnson said. “And I know that if I ever needed her for anything, she’d drop what she was doing and be there.”

Ditto, said Reyes.

“I know that I can call her — and [I] have on multiple occasions — to say I just need you to listen about work or family or anything, and I know she’ll always tell me the truth,” she said. “It’s a very cool relationship and still going strong after five years.”

Different beginnings

Johnson and Reyes  followed different paths into the profession. When Johnson was in the 8th grade, her sister injured her knee skiing and required physical therapy.

“I went into the gym and watched her working with her physical therapist, who was pushing her to work really hard and cheering her on when she did well. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to become a physical therapist,” Johnson said.

As for Reyes, a soccer teammate introduced her to the field when she was in college.

“I always loved sports and knew I wanted to work in the medical field helping people in some way,” Reyes said. “My friend went into a physical therapy program and she helped me get a job as a PT aide my senior year. Once I applied to school and got in, I fell in love with the profession.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.