Howard Kelfer, M.D., retires after 40 years
Texas and Cook Children's are both known for their pioneering spirit – and Howard Kelfer, M.D., has embodied that same spirit over his 40-year career with Cook Children's. When he first left Boston following child neurology training, Dr. Kelfer was certain of two things: He wanted to practice general child neurology and to leave his mark wherever he landed. Moving to Fort Worth, however, was an afterthought. Having explored Phoenix and Jacksonville for his practice, Dr. Kelfer came to Fort Worth on a whim, finding a mid-sized city with two children's hospitals (Fort Worth Children's and Cook Children's) and a lot of potential.
"There were relatively few specialty docs when I first arrived," Dr. Kelfer said. "A surgeon, a hematologist – all just looking to make their mark and that interested me."
Dr. Kelfer decided to make the move to Fort Worth and joined another neurologist in town to create his private pediatric neurology practice in the early 1980s. He recalls fondly driving his old car to each children's hospital in the morning to see patients, then spending a day in clinic, and returning at the end of the day to finish up any hospital work. Those long hours set the tone for how he has managed the inpatient Neurology service at Cook Children's ever since.
"Back in the day, all imaging was done at Harris Hospital," Dr. Kelfer said. "If you had a sick kid in clinic, you transported them by ambulance over to the hospital, and you rode along just in case."
Despite being a doctor in a small private practice, Dr. Kelfer noted that no patient was too difficult. "Our job was to take care of the kids and each other," he said. "We didn't shy away from any case, no matter the situation."
It wasn't until 1989 that the two children's hospitals merged to form Cook Children's as we now know it. Shortly thereafter, the new hospital started attracting more physicians to the area and Cook Children's Physician Network was formed.
Dr. Kelfer was instrumental in leading the neurology division as the first specialty group to join the network in 1994. He had already recruited other pediatric neurology providers into his group by this time – always with an eye toward those with the pioneering spirit. Along with Angel W. Hernandez, M.D., and Warren A. Marks, M.D., the group developed subspecialty programs in spasticity and movement. Epilepsy and neurosurgery joined Cook Children's Physician Network in the early 2000s.
Always focused on the potential at Cook Children's, Dr. Kelfer along with Drs. Hernandez and Marks, David Donahue, M.D., and John Honeycutt, M.D., developed the first 15-year plan to create a signature program in neurosciences. Following an initial gift from the Jane and John Justin Foundation in 2006, the Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center was born.
Since that time, Dr. Kelfer has remained an active participant in the neurology group and held numerous leadership positions within Cook Children's and Cook Children's Physician Network. To this day, he remains the only medical staff member who has served as both president of the professional staff and chairman of Cook Children's Physician Network board. He founded the Waco neurology clinic, and more recently has been a fixture on the inpatient neurology service at the main campus.
Since opening the doors to his private practice 40 years ago, Cook Children's Neurosciences has grown to 22 child neurologists, three pediatric neurosurgeons, and four neuropsychologists - all with the same pioneering spirit that Dr. Kelfer brought to Fort Worth many years earlier. Consistently ranked as one of the best pediatric neurosciences programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report, nearly 40,000 patient visits per year occur across 13 outpatient clinics and three inpatient facilities.
With a focus on the next chapter, Dr. Kelfer has helped shape the vision for the Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health – a collaborative clinical model that brings together the departments of Neurosciences, Psychology, Psychiatry and the Child Study Center to provide the most comprehensive and innovative care to children with disorders of the nervous system.
As he looks back on his career at Cook Children's, Dr. Kelfer's fondest memories center on the collegiality and vision of the doctors that started the journey with him many years ago.
"We were friends, our kids went to school and hung out together. We all wanted to make a difference," Dr. Kelfer said. "It warms my heart to see what Cook Children's has become."
Dr. Kelfer noted that his specialty group has grown since the early 80s, but the strength of the practice remains the collaborative environment, and that every member has a voice to drive change. With his office nearly packed up and his last rounds in the hospital complete, Dr. Kelfer leaves these parting words, "Be kind, give a crap and always have each other's back."
A leader, a friend and a fantastic physician, his neurosciences partners know they are fortunate to work in the "house that Howard built."