New Honors for Beloved Leader in Pediatric Pulmonology

Dr. Thomas Keens
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Dr. Thomas Keens, at his office at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, displays the Pediatric Founders Award he recently won.

Dr. Thomas Keens, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who has served as medical director of the pulmonary physiology laboratory at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles since 1977, has gained further validation of his prominence in his field, having recently received the Pediatric Founders Award.
Keens spoke about his passion for his job during an interview in his CHLA office, where the many awards he has received — including the Founders Award — cover the walls, shelves and desk.
“I just love it,” Keens said. “I like the patient care, I like the research and I like the teaching. It’s the perfect career. No two days are the same, so I never get bored.”
Keens was the 10th recipient of the distinction granted by the Pediatric Scientific Assembly of the American Thoracic Society at its annual meeting on May 19 in Dallas.
“I’ve been around awhile and I guess that’s the reason,” Keens said. “I’ve been at Children’s Hospital since 1977, in the pulmonary division obviously, and over those years we’ve done a lot of research that I think has been important or fundamental and in terms of things that are now regarded as common practice in pediatric pulmonary. In my case, I’ve done this all using fellows” — doctors pursuing further training in their specialty. “In many cases they are the premier pulmonologists in their country or area.”
A pediatric pulmonologist treats youth who have lung and breathing diseases. Keens is considered an expert on children’s pulmonary and respiratory disorders, including sudden infant death syndrome, according to a biography on the USC website.
The 72-year-old keeps a busy schedule. He is a professor of pediatrics, physiology and biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Pediatric Pulmonology Fellowship training program director at CHLA, a vice chair at Children’s Hospital Institute of Medical Education, and a chair of the hospital’s committee on clinical investigations.
Dr. Stephanie Davis, who was recently the pediatric assembly chair for the American Thoracic Society, said Keens is a beloved leader.
“It’s remarkable how long he’s been there,” said Davis, chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and physician in chief of UNC Children’s Hospital, in an phone interview. “He’s exactly the type of physician we all want to be. That’s why he got the Founders Award. He’s made such a difference in our field in pediatric pulmonary. He’s a leader from all the fellows he’s trained. … He’s an incredible role model for all of us.”
Keens’ daughter Jenny Franz said the award had special meaning.
“I think that it is more rewarding to receive that recognition from his peers and his former students than it would be from anyone else,” said Franz, who teaches 5th-graders at La Cañada Elementary School. “It shows he had a direct impact on them.”
Keens said he received an email telling him he won the award about a month before receiving it. He said the Thoracic Society is the premier scientific society regarding pulmonary diseases for adults and children.
Franz said her father shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s just the nature of being a physician and having to be on call,” she said. “He’s always had to spend a lot of time at work and with his patients and doing research and at conferences. He still puts in a lot of time at the hospital. He still takes calls like every other doctor in his department. He’s a busy guy.”
She believes his close relationships with his colleagues and former fellows have also kept him going.
“I think he still loves what he does and as long as that continues, he will keep going,” Franz said. “I can’t see him stopping unless being forced to.”

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