Emergency brain surgery and a cancer diagnosis won’t stop this BC chiropractor from helping patients get better

Date:  October 4, 2022


Dr. Elna Johnson with a patient

When she got the call to join the medical team for Team Canada’s track and field squad at the Commonwealth Games this summer, there was no hesitation for B.C. chiropractor Dr. Elna Johnson to pack her bags. It was quite an opportunity to be a part of Team Canada, especially as they brought home serious hardware from Birmingham, England with 26 gold, 32 silver, and 34 bronze medals, finishing third overall.

She spent her days providing ‘round-the-clock support to athletes, attending training camps, working with the track and field squad through morning, afternoon, and evening track practice, providing additional clinic hours, and of course, being on site during race day. The days were long, but Dr. Johnson felt energized helping the team and never once felt like time was dragging.

Her favourite moment of the Games? The women’s 4×4 relay. The team won silver, just shy of 0.001 seconds behind Team England. With an incredible silver medal win, Team Canada was elated – celebrating, screaming, crying. But moments later, the teams were notified that Team England was disqualified.

That meant Canada finished the day with the gold medal.

“It was the gold medal moment. It was already an epic day; the gold made it even more epic. So many things could go wrong, but so many things can go right! This was a huge team effort and there’s something special about this team and being able to celebrate together. It was a special moment,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. E;na Johnson at the Commonwealth Games

Over her 15+ years practicing, Dr. Johnson has worked with the NFL, CFL, NHL, and Athletics Canada. She has also worked with Hollywood actors. And to their surprise, she has told some A-list celebrities they would have to wait until her next available appointment – refusing to cancel current appointments to work on a film set.

Because of her experience with professional sports teams, she gets regular queries asking, “I’m not a professional athlete, I’m not a celebrity, can I still see you?” And the answer is always YES.

“The Olympian wants to achieve great things, the gardener wants to garden, the mom wants to go for a run with her newborn. You have the same goal and the same needs. Just different venues. It’s the same pain that’s affecting their lives. Pain is pain; the inability to do the things you enjoy, is the same restriction,” she explains.

Helping people get better ignites her passion, especially by providing chiropractic care. She has spent time studying sports medicine and realized that she wanted to do more than diagnose issues: she wanted to be a part of the solution and to be more hands on in the way she treated patients. 

“As a chiropractor, I’m a specialist on how the body functions and moves. I don’t fix the problem. I help my patients regain control.”

Dr. Elna Johnson treating a patient

Speaking with Dr. Johnson, you would have no indication that just last year she was on the operating table undergoing emergency brain surgery.

For four years, she treated her patients while suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition in which severe lightning bolt type pain shot through her face. By January 2021, she could no longer eat, speak, or move. She was in and out of the hospital until finally a leading researcher reviewed her scans again and deemed emergency open head surgery was required.

The recovery wasn’t easy, and she recalls thinking that dying on the table was a real potential. Over the next four months she faced brain bleeds and chemical meningitis. Yet somehow, she slowly returned to work seeing patients and attending training camps with Athletics Canada.

During a trip home from training camp, Dr. Johnson had one of those feelings – she scheduled an entire physical exam, mammogram screening, and a pap test. By June, she learned that she had stage 2 breast cancer. Within a month, she underwent a double mastectomy and began hormone therapy.

“Being a mom is a good chunk of my life, the joy of my life. Being strong for them forced me to stay in a positive mindset and I had to fight for them. There’s no way I was going to leave them without their mom, and it took everything in me to fight for that.”

Friends, family, colleagues, and patients rallied together to support Dr. Johnson with kind messages and meal trains. Although patients weren’t sure how to support her through the battle, they wrote to her saying now it was their turn “to help you the way you helped us.”

“That was so humbling and so motivating. To me, that was a testament of everything I had done so far. I had done something right.”

By 2022, she returned to work with a fully booked schedule. But things were different.

She set boundaries with her time and made sure she was around more for her kids before and after school. But Dr. Johnson continued to find ways to prioritize her patients’ care. With their input, she decided the best way to book appointments was longer sessions resulting in less overall visits.

“I changed how I practice. I am being sought out to get someone better, and I didn’t want time to hinder my ability to do so. For example, sometimes when I’m with a new patient, I have the flexibility to extend their appointment if it’s necessary and I’m able to give everything I’ve got during that time.”

“In all of our respective lives, our health and ability to achieve the goals we want to achieve, it means the same,” said Dr. Johnson. “Everyone’s issue, whether you’re a super star, a triathlete, a mom, a friend, YOUR issue matters.”

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