'Totally surreal.' A Cook Children's neurologist looks back on her days as a volunteer
When Cynthia Keator, M.D., passes the Atrium, she can't help but feel that same sense of awe that Cook Children’s Medical Center gave her more than 20 years ago as a volunteer.
Dr. Keator, who is a pediatric neurologist and epileptologist at Cook Children’s, began volunteering at Cook Children's at the age of 14 as a title holder with the Miss Texas Organization. Along with many of the other titleholders, she would perform her talent for patients in the atrium. Back then she performed ventriloquist routines.
“My fondest memory is being in the Atrium performing and you look up and see all the children and their parents looking down and watching you,” she said. “It was so daunting then and now I walk past it all the time.”
Then in 1998, through a senior internship program during her senior year at Trinity Valley School, she spent her spring semester with Hematology and Oncology at Cook Children’s.
The department held a special place in her heart because her cousin battled cancer there. That stint with the doctors made such an impact on her that after completing her internship, she continued to volunteer at the medical center.
When asked if she always wanted to be a doctor, Dr. Keator said, “I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. We all have that childhood dream of what we want to be when we grow up, and even then I always wanted to help people, especially children.”
As a volunteer, she tried to ask good questions and absorb as much knowledge as possible to prepare her for medical school. She learned the importance of listening to the patients and their families. She also saw science come to life. It wasn’t just about studying words in a book; it was seeing how medicine and medical care actually worked.
“Volunteering here I also realized how little I knew!” Dr. Keator said. “Just regular biology or chemistry class in high school is nothing compared to what people do in real life. It was a process, where I learned that being a doctor was about more than just being smart, it really takes a lot of compassion and motivation. I was able to see the interaction of the doctors and nurses with the patients. I realized I had so much more to learn than what was just in a textbook. ”
It was through her volunteering at Cook Children’s that she developed her interest in working with children, especially those needing chronic or long-term care. “I learned my true passion of wanting to help others was the relationships you develop with your patients and their families,” says Dr. Keator. “In neurology, we care for many children with neurological conditions that require close follow up and care, as many of our patients are cared for from birth through adulthood. Of course, I enjoy the pathophysiology of neurological conditions, especially epilepsy, but, what I also love about my field is that you become part of the team and you truly get to know the family.”
Now at Cook Children’s, Dr. Keator sees new people learning those same life lessons. “I see volunteers today at Cook Children’s and they are all age groups who choose to spend time with our patients. I’m so thankful so many people want to come here and volunteer and help with the children. It’s pretty incredible. “Everyone should volunteer. It’s good for the soul.”
Dr. Keator said that working at Cook Children’s is “totally surreal” because it was everything she aspired to do as a child. “It’s really cool to look back and say, ‘Wow, I did it.’”
Get to know Cynthia Guadalupe Keator, M.D.
Dr. Keator has dedicated her career to the field of pediatric epilepsy, in part because there is always something new to learn, and especially because great strides are constantly being made in the medical treatments available to kids who are diagnosed with this condition. These advances make profound differences in the lives of children and their families. On a daily basis Dr. Keator witnesses children outgrow the condition, go into remission or find effective treatment.
Today, she is proud to doctor at Cook Children's and an integral part of a neurology team that is making such huge difference in the lives of children.
Her study of pediatric epilepsy and dedication to those who have it extends well beyond one-on-one interaction with patients. Dr. Keator is active in the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas, a program that offers children statewide support and education, and even provides summer camps for children with epilepsy.
All children want to be physically active and that is a common ground she shares with patients. Having spent her residency in Colorado she has become an avid skier with Copper Mountain being a favorite.
Dr. Keator holds another unique distinction: she competed in the Miss America Pageant, and while she could have played the piano for her talent portion of the competition, she chose instead to perform a ventriloquist act.
She is married and has two dogs, has a lot of energy and is definitely a morning person.