DanvilleSanRamon.com

Cover Story - July 13, 2007

Helping to heal

Sports injury leads Danville man into physical therapy profession

by Jordan M. Doronila

Small and intimate works best for healing. This is how Eric Sargent likes to keep his sports injury business in Danville.

Sargent, 40, believes relationships and trust make his and John Barman's Diablo Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine on Diablo Road an oasis where injured patients can rejuvenate.

Knowing how an injury breaks down makes it easier "putting them back together," he said. "A lot of our patients are pretty happy."

In the clinic, patients rest against the wall reading magazines and joking with the staff while undergoing treatments. Around the airy room, therapists work with patients, leading them in strengthening exercises.

"We build trust and rapport," Sargent said. "We try to get them to drop their walls. Sometimes it feels like 'Cheers.'"

Diablo Physical Therapy opened in February 2000 and aims to provide care to patients with bio-mechanical injuries. Many of their clients are referred by physicians in the Bay Area, he said. Creating one-on-one relationships and tailoring personal healing programs with their clients are essential in their services, he noted.

"That doesn't happen anymore," Sargent said. "Everything is in a hurry. Listening is huge."

The clinic's healing philosophy involves understanding the biology of an injury, providing physical techniques so an injured muscle can work again, and tailoring an individual program for each patient.

"It's cutting edge medicine," Sargent said.

Sargent grew up in Danville. He went to Vista Grande Elementary School and then to Los Cerros Middle School. Afterward, he attended San Ramon Valley High School.

"It's a small town," Sargent said. "Everybody knew everybody."

He was engaged in water polo, swimming and tennis. After graduating from San Ramon Valley, he enrolled at the University of Redlands in Southern California but didn't know what he wanted to study.

"It was awesome," he said. "It was small. I still have lifelong friendships from college."

Sargent said he enjoyed Los Angeles. He did a lot of activities, such as scuba diving. But when he tore his right arm playing water polo, his injury changed his perspective toward life.

"I may never play again," he said. "It was depressing. It's a gut check. You keep that in mind. It's very discouraging."

He said sports were a big part of his identity, and the activities he and his friends did together were possibly no longer going to be available to him.

"I had to mentally move on," he said.

When he went to physical therapy sessions, he enjoyed being surrounded by athletes and the sports environment. From this experience, he was inspired to study physical therapy.

He said physical therapy gave him the opportunity to combine athletics and human interaction together. And he foresaw opening his own business in the future.

"That was a huge deal for me," Sargent said. "I get to be the boss. I wasn't into corporate America." Diablo Physical Therapy also has branches in Brentwood and Atherton.

After graduating from University of Redlands, he went into the master's degree physical therapy program at University of Southern California.

"I had no idea it was hard to get into," he said. "I've been fortunate with schools."

He said he was focused in graduate school. When he finished, he did professional clinical work. Shortly afterward, he and Barman, who was a student of his, decided to open their own physical therapy business in Danville. Sargent said he wanted to move back to his old hometown and to live closer to his parents, and his sister and her family.

Starting the business was well within his reach, he said, and was soon a success.

Many people come in with injuries derived from different experiences, Sargent said. He recalled dealing with a patient who had nasty injuries with four damaged ligaments in his knee, and another with an injury from a car accident.

"We are good at what we do," he said. "We caught some breaks. We had a lot of support."

He credits his strong staff and his network of physicians for the success of his business.

"There are a lot of people rowing the oars," he said. "We've been lucky."

He was coach for the Del Amigo recreational swim team and enjoyed teaching kids and interacting with parents.

"It was a lot of fun," Sargent said.

Barman graduated from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology and also earned his masters degree in physical therapy from USC. He is a specialist in orthopedic and sports-related injuries, with particular expertise in biomechanics and functional anatomy.

His research topic while at USC was "The Effect of Kinesthetic Training on Shoulder Angle Reproduction in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers with Anterior Glenohumeral Subluxation."

Prior to establishing Diablo Physical Therapy, Barman held a position as a clinical specialist for five years at a prominent physical therapy group in Los Angeles, which specialized in spinal dysfunction. He is an avid marathon runner, and he has extensive knowledge of running-related injuries to the foot/ankle, knee, hip and spine.

Around 11 therapists work at Diablo Therapy.

"The Diablo team is very hands on, and they are like a family," said Mike Pawlawksi, former professional quarterback for the now defunct XFL San Francisco Demons. "You don't normally get this kind of attentive, competent and friendly physical therapy at other PT shops."

"I look forward to coming to therapy," added Julie Cunningham, a patient at the clinic. "There is a great group of physical therapists and patients at Diablo PT. The environment is very nurturing."

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