I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as a guest blogger for On The Mark as we honor the founder of Texas Children’s Community Cares Program, Dr. Robert F. Austin, who passed away earlier this year. Dr. Austin left his mark on Texas Children’s, our entire community and so many of you — it is my honor to tell his story and share how Texas Children’s is honoring his legacy.
I can remember interviewing for my pediatric residency as if it was yesterday. I was incredibly excited but also very nervous because, on my way to Houston from California, my luggage happened to get lost along the way. When I entered my interview, the first thing I said to Dr. Ralph Feigin, who was Physician-in-Chief at the time, was an apology that I didn’t have a suit because it had stayed in my luggage. He laughed and responded, “Don’t you hate when that happens?”
His humble and gracious acceptance of my dilemma was the first sign that Texas Children’s was a very special place to be. Since that day, I’ve remained immensely grateful to Dr. Feigin because, after my interview, he invited me to meet Dr. Robert Austin, the physician who would become one of the most important and influential people in my life.
While I maintained a close relationship with Dr. Austin after our initial meeting, my career at Texas Children’s actually started in a different area than his. I spent about three years working in retrovirology and one day while I was caring for patients in Botswana, I received a call from Dr. Austin. He told me he had a project coming up that he thought I would be a great fit for and asked me to give him a call when I got back home. I didn’t know it then, but that very phone call would set the path for the rest of my career.
Dr. Austin introduced me to Project Medical Home, which is now known as Community Cares. He said he wanted this to be a place where every child could receive more than just medical care. It would be a place where they would have seamless access to resources they may not even know are available to them. He wanted this program to be a home for patients where they felt safe and secure, and as he spoke, every word he used to describe this project also described my true passion and a calling I was more than ready to answer.
Dr. Austin developed Community Cares because he believed that children are our most valuable resource. His undeniable commitment to serving all who need help, and his ability to be an advocate for the underserved, not only made a profound impact on how Texas Children’s Pediatrics provides care to those most in need — it also made a profound impact on me.
Throughout his life, Dr. Austin showed me the true art of medicine and how to care for patients from all backgrounds. He taught me that every family has a story and as physicians, it’s a privilege to listen. Dr. Austin showed me how to take the tools I’m given and make them accessible to everyone. He taught me how to provide family-centered care and truly connect with the family as a whole.
Dr. Austin’s advice, life lessons and invaluable mentorship have undoubtedly made me the physician — and person — I am today.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to come together with Mr. Wallace, my Texas Children’s colleagues and Dr. Austin’s family to honor Dr. Robert F. Austin by naming the very first Community Cares Site after him. Now, his tremendous legacy and the program he founded will continue to impact more and more families under his namesake for years to come.
Dr. Austin will never stop being my mentor — the lessons I learned while under his wing will stay with me forever. He lived his life to the fullest, he never met a stranger and he served his community with the biggest heart until the day he passed. I owe so much to his inspirational leadership, and I sincerely hope that I can carry the torch he held for so long and make him proud.
Desiree Lynell Evans, MD, MPH, FAAP
Texas Children’s Pediatrics