How three of Kansas City’s Top Doctors stay grounded during a tough year

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Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

Everyone, including doctors, needs a break from pandemic talk. We talked to three doctors—who were all named Kansas City’s Top Doctors for 2021—a little bit about themselves, what motivates them and how they like to spend their time outside the OR.

Daniel Bortnick, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Plastic Surgeon at Bortnick Plastic Surgery

Dr. Dan Bortnick is a second-generation plastic surgeon. His passion for his family is evidenced on every wall of his Overland Park office.

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Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

For Dr. Dan Bortnick, medicine runs in the family. His father, Dr. Eugene Bortnick, is known across the country as one of the grandfathers of rhinoplasty. The elder Bortnick is retired at age eighty-five and has become an esteemed watercolor painter, using his years of experience in facial anatomy to mimic fine detailing in his artwork. It’s meant that the younger Dr. Bortnick’s office is now doubling as a gallery space: “His art is all over my office and people buy it off the wall,” Dr. Bortnick says.

Was Kansas City always the place for you?

After I graduated med school, I came back to Kansas City, which at the time wasn’t really the Welcome Wagon for new plastic surgeons. Everyone had something discouraging to say, like “It’s too crowded.” But I said, “No, this is my family. This is my life and I’m going to start here.”

What would you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

My family and my marriage. I’ve been really lucky in life for a lot of reasons, but the biggest success, without a doubt, is the success of my family. My kids, two boys and two girls, range in age from eighteen to twenty-seven. It’s always nice to have them in town—we love going to workout classes together with our masks on, like group boxing or cardio fit.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this year?

I always tell my residents and my kids that the only thing in life you can really control is the amount of work and the daily discipline that you put in. A lot of things are out of your control, but you can control the amount of daily work you do. Never get complacent. Run with the wind at your back.

Kathryn Keeler, M.D.

Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Children’s Mercy Hospital

When she’s not performing surgery, Dr. Kathryn Keeler is running her own farm in Smithville.

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Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

When pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kathryn Keeler made the move from St. Louis to Kansas City, she liked the idea of living somewhere rural. At her spread in Smithville, Keeler has created her own hobby farm, tending to a flock of chickens, ducks and geese along with sheep, grass-fed cows and one llama named Frieda.

What made you decide to go into orthopedics?

My mom was a kitchen and bath interior designer. One of her clients was a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. I was on a path to become a physical therapist because I have always appreciated fitness and activity, and in college I really enjoyed human anatomy and learning more about the body. My mom’s client had me shadow him while on spring break. It was amazing. I really saw the job as connecting all the dots.

How did the pandemic affect your job?

I really don’t view myself as being on the front lines. Overnight, a considerable part of my practice stopped. But what didn’t stop is the injuries. What didn’t stop was the trauma. In fact, my partners and I saw a huge increase in the number of children who were injured and who needed surgery. With schools closed, families immediately ran out and bought trampolines. So even though our non-emergency practices were put on hold, our emergency practices were still very busy.

How do you balance running a farm with being a surgeon?

Before I even head out to work at six, I have to at least eyeball check—and sometimes do some chores for—the animals. I get a lot of enjoyment out of them, and I think that being around the animals is very calming. As someone who wants things to happen in a certain way, they’ve really taught me how to accept that sometimes you just have to let nature run its course.

Eddie Island, M.D

Transplant Surgeon at Saint Luke’s Health System

Surgeon Dr. Eddie Island finds creative relief through a camera.

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Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

When Dr. Eddie Island moved to Kansas City five years ago, it was through photography that the transplant surgeon started to learn about Kansas City’s history and gain an appreciation for the city’s beauty and hidden gems. Since then, he’s become more skilled in the art form and uses it as a creative outlet for when he’s not in the operating room. “Both here in Kansas City and in places that I travel to, usually there’s a bag on my side that has my camera in it,” he says.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

This niche in my practice allows me to reverse the ravages of chronic disease and really provide patients with a new opportunity, a new lease on life. These are life-saving operations and a kind of ultimate expression. It’s a privilege for me to be able to do it.

What are you doing when you’re not working?

Spending time with my family is a priority. I have a very demanding job, but it’s always been important to me that I am a part of my childrens’ lives and a part of their experience growing up, whether it’s teaching my son to fish or spending time helping coach my daughter in soccer and track.

Is it hard to switch gears from surgery to something more creative, like photography?

Surgery is a field that’s very tactile and very visual. Looking at the operative field and noting the pattern and what belongs and what doesn’t belong is part of the experience that one develops as a surgeon. At the same time, understanding photography means working with light, the way the camera works, the nuances of post processing and producing a pleasing visual result. Both the creative and the scientific sides of the brain really reinforce each other.