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Surgeon moves back home to DL

Dr. Andrew Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and is now a pediatric surgeon at Sanford Health in DL.

Thirty-three years ago, little Andy Johnson was running around the old Rexall Drug Store in downtown Detroit Lakes.

“My grandfather, Al, owned it, and so I’d go in there to see him and my grandmother,” said Johnson, who is now Dr. Andrew Johnson, a podiatric surgeon working for Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes.

Johnson’s grandfather, who had also served as mayor of Detroit Lakes, passed away when Andy was only 5, but whether it be through DNA or shop talk, his love of medicine was clearly passed on.  Johnson’s father, Jim, also became a pharmacist, taking over the drug store for several years.

“I have a lot of relatives that are pharmacists and some that are physicians, and so I grew up with discussions about medicine,” said Johnson, who says by the time he was a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I’ve always wanted to be a surgeon,” he said, “I’ve always been intrigued by the human body, and I liked the idea of being able to physically make improvements for people.”

With a family of medical professionals backing him, Andy Johnson began skillfully carving his educational path, beginning with the harder classes in high school.

“I think the schools here are great — people are supportive of education in Detroit Lakes,” said Johnson, who was a Dollars for Scholars recipient.

After graduating from high school, Johnson, who went to Holy Rosary as a child, went on to the Catholic university, St. John’s, in Collegeville, Minn. and then to medical school at Des Moines University.

A surgical residency sent him to Tacoma, Wash., where he not only began his medical career, but also began his family.

Johnson married his wife, Sherri, and although he had always wanted to “get out of Detroit Lakes and see the world” as a teenager, something about the rest of the world didn’t seem quite as appealing through his new perspective as a husband and father.

“It made me think more about my roots, and I had a lot of great memories growing up in Detroit Lakes,” said Johnson, who says people elsewhere never seemed quite as friendly as the ones he remembered growing up with in Detroit Lakes.

So when the position of podiatric surgeon opened up in Detroit Lakes, his wife and three children took the leap of faith to go “back home” with him.

“I think the first winter was a little rough for my wife,” laughed Johnson, “but after that it was pretty good.”

Now, with three children back in the Detroit Lakes School system, Johnson has come full circle.

“It’s nice to be able to see my kids get to do some of the things I grew up doing,” said Johnson, who missed being able to hunt, snowmobile and spend time on the lake.

And although he can no longer look up and see the old Johnson Rexall Drug Store or the Hallmark Store that his mother owned in its place for many years, he still gets to see his parents and a couple of his sisters who still live in the area.

And as for Johnson, he continues to carry on the family tradition of helping to heal the people of Detroit Lakes, one foot and ankle surgery at a time.

Johnson typically performs four to five surgeries per week.

“Mostly my practice centers around people who have progressive conditions, but I will also operate on traumatic injuries, and foot and ankle fractures,” said Johnson. “I also see a lot of diabetics who are having foot issues, and then anywhere from tendon injuries to complete reconstructions.”

Johnson says some of the people he has helped over the past five years of working as a surgeon in his hometown are ones that know him less as “Dr. Johnson” and more as “Andy” who grew up down the road.

 “It’s nice to see familiar faces that I grew up with so you develop those personal relationships,” said Johnson, “and you’re able to get them back into their lifestyle again —it’s very, very gratifying.”

So gratifying that Johnson says he plans on making Detroit Lakes his home for a very long time.

“I have a lot of respect for the people in this community,” he said.  “I think people here are kind and honest, and I have no plans to leave.”