DAPHNE, Ala. – Imagine this: An individual matriculates though college, graduates and becomes so successful in their chosen field but beholden to that alma mater that they return and impact the school in such a way that the mark they leave on it is indelible. Such a feat is as improbable as it is impressive. Now imagine accomplishing it twice.
Dr. John A. Feagin Jr., the 2015 Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award by the United States Sports Academy, doesn’t have to imagine. He managed to forge incredible academic-professional legacies at both the United States Military Academy and Duke University, and despite having retired his fingerprints remain on the medical field, especially as it relates to sports, and those prestigious institutions of higher education.
The honor bestowed Feagin is named in recognition of the former Olympic athlete, international sports medicine scholar and Director of the University of Kentucky Rehabilitation Center. It is given annually to an individual for his/her contributions to the growth and development of some aspect of sports medicine through practice or research, be well-known in the sports medicine field and have an abiding belief in and practice of ethical behavior in pursuit of knowledge.
A former athlete at West Point, where he lettered as a member of the swimming and diving team and was a member of the West Point Water Polo Club, Feagin was commissioned to the Artillery Branch of the U.S. Army. While in that position, he was inspired by a strong sense of duty and responsibility for soldier well-being and applied for admission to Duke University School of Medicine. So impressed by his interview, the Dean granted Feagin admission, making him the first graduate accepted there from any service academy. He reached an agreement with the Army that he’d be allowed to take a leave of absence without pay to attend medical school at his own expense. He eventually became president of his medical school class.
Following graduation from Duke in 1961, Feagin returned to active duty, serving as an intern in Hawaii and California before starting a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While there, he was recognized as a brilliant and uniquely gifted surgeon. He also tapped into his networking skills, sharing information with other doctors performing similar work, which led to him becoming a founding member of the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Later, after returning to West Point as team physician from a stint as Chief of Orthopaedic Services at the 85th Evac Hospital in Vietnam, he also become a founding member of the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, the International Society of Knee Surgery and Arthoscopy.
His book, “The Crucial Ligaments” helped revise the treatment of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and is used, among his other works and teachings, even today in treating sports knee injuries and educating young orthopedic surgeons.
After stints both stateside and abroad, Feagin became Commander of Keller Army Hospital in 1978, personally training surgeons assigned to the role of team physician for Army sports teams. That was an endeavor he continued long after his retirement from active duty in 1979.
Ultimately, he found his way back to Duke, following a decade of private practice in Wyoming and aiding the U.S. Olympic Ski Team as a consultant and team physician. Taking a dual role as professor and Chief of Orthopaedic Services in the Durham (N.C.) Veterans Administration Medical Center in 1989 allowed him to reach out to resident doctors and share his expertise. Renewing a friendship with Blue Devils basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had been a member of the Army basketball team during Feagin’s time there, the doctor once again became team physician and enjoyed being part of two national championship-winning outfits. He managed to squeeze in being team physician for the U.S. Ski Team during the 1992 Winter Olympics at this juncture, too.
Feagin, winner of Army’s 2004 Distinguished Graduate Award, also brainstormed with fellow Duke Medical School staff members to create the university’s Human Performance Laboratory, which focuses on injury prevention with an emphasis on ACL injuries. So taken by his involvement at the school, Duke’s Sports Medicine Leadership Program is named after him. Enterprising sort that he is, Feagin managed to extend a scholar program offshoot of that in Vail, Colo., once he took residence there.
In a brief description of the program, the essence of Feagin’s work and his lasting impact is crystalized: “For all those who find problems and frustrations within our societal systems, this should be a reminder to pause and reflect on how Dr. Feagin attacked a problem as a new opportunity to develop a program from scratch and make a difference. This boldness and conviction are key attributes of highly effective leaders.”
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy visit www.ussa.edu.