OLLU prepares the doctors of today and tomorrow
Dr. Gladys Confrel
Gladys Confrel Keene came to Our Lady of the Lake College to study music. She left with a desire to pursue medicine. Courses in biology and logic inspired the change in ambition as did two teaching Sisters.
Who knew that one decision more than half a century ago would impact so many? Dr. Keene (BA biology 1960) has treated thousands of patients as a pediatrician and allergist and influenced countless others as dean of the University of Texas Health Science Center regional campus in Laredo.
As dean since 2010, Dr. Keene attends to student and faculty needs six days a week while running a private practice in Laredo with her husband, an ear, nose and throat surgeon. One year before she was named dean, OLLU recognized Dr. Keene as an Outstanding Alumna. Fifty three years after graduating from a school then known as OLL, Dr. Keene fondly recalls the events that led her into medicine.
“I had been a pianist in Laredo since I was 5 or 6-years-old,” she says. “I graduated from St. Augustine in Laredo as valedictorian and got a scholarship to Our Lady of the Lake. I got there when I was 15- or 16-years-old. I was a music major. But I started to think about it long term and decided I was not interested in teaching music. I thought, ‘What else can I do?’
“I loved logic. I had wonderful teachers in math and chemistry and biology, like Sister Bernice and Sister Mary Clare (Metz). By the end of my second or third year, I had accumulated a lot of different hours and thought about going on to medical school.”
Dr. Keene may have taken an unusual track into medicine – leaving music for biology – but her post-graduate career is not uncommon. Though records are incomplete, OLLU has been able to document more than 60 graduates who’ve become distinguished physicians, surgeons, dentists, optometrists and psychiatrists.
• Dr. William H. Brady (BA Biology 1978), Medical Director, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, in Albuquerque, N.M.
• Dr. Alma Rodriguez (BA Biology, Chemistry 1975), Vice President, Medical Affairs, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
• Dr. Marga Speicher (MSW 1959), retired psychotherapist, founder of Jung Clinic at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
• Dr. Elba Fernandez (BA Biology 2000); optometrist and glaucoma specialist, Neuro-Ophthalmology of Texas/Bellaire Eye Care in Houston.
• Dr. Valerie Hernandez-Danner (BA Biology 2000), family physician at Centro Med in San Antonio.
• Dr. Natalie Dryden (BA Biology 1995), primary care physician, University of Houston Student Health Center.
• Dr. Emma Mata-Galan (PsyD 2003), therapist, trainer and program director of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio.
• Dr. Paul Ratner (MBA Management 2001), physician noted for treatments of allergies, asthma and immunology in San Antonio and founder of Sylvana Research.
• Dr. Cheryl Davis (BA Biology 1984), dentist, solo practitioner at Cheryl E. Davis, DMD, Family in Ellis Alley Enclave in San Antonio.
• Dr. Marian Primomo (BA English 1940), retired physician and former Hospice Medical Director at Santa Rosa Hospital.
Many OLLU alumni in the medical field have been honored for distinguished service. Mata-Galan, for example, received the prestigious APA, Division 18, 2013 Outstanding Director of Training award.
OLLU has recognized Primomo, now 93, as an Outstanding Alumna for service to her profession.
Last spring, the MD Anderson Cancer Center gave Dr. Rodriguez, a professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma, its inaugural President’s Leadership Award for Advancing Women Faculty.
The daughter of migrant farm workers on the U.S.-Mexico border, Dr. Rodriguez aspired to become a chemist when she enrolled at The Lake. But her ambitions changed as she studied under two inspiring nuns.
“Sisters Jane Slater and Isabel Ball were my mentors in the science majors program,” Dr. Rodriguez says in the book, ‘Legends and Legacies,’ “and they encouraged me to pursue a graduate education.”
Dr. Brady attributes much of his success to his undergraduate education at OLLU. “My most cherished memories are working with Sister Hillary Christopher and Sister Isabel Ball,” Dr. Brady says. “They were both outstanding role models. Our Lady of the Lake University helped prepare me to become a lifelong learner and to help others succeed.”
He once served as Chairman of the Board for Los Alamos Medical Center. Today, he is pursuing a master’s degree in health economics from the London School of Economics.
At the suggestion of his mother, who worked in the financial aid office, Dr. Brady applied to OLLU after serving four years in the Air Force. Valerie Hernandez-Danner, on the other hand, always knew where she wanted to attend school.
“I grew up a few blocks from Our Lady of the Lake,” says Hernandez-Danner, who practices family medicine. “I would fantasize about living in that castle.”
Dr. Davis graduated from OLLU almost 30 years ago. She served as an Air Force dentist for five years, became an associate dentist on the city’s East Side and worked as a contract dentist for the Bexar County Jail before opening her own practice. “OLLU provided a competitive science program,” Dr. Davis says. “My favorite memories are the camaraderie I shared with fellow classmates, the college activities and the spiritual education.”
Dr. Ratner came to OLLU after he had an established medical practice. Why? To pursue an MBA in management. “I didn’t know how to read a profit-margin statement or deal with human resource issues,” he says.
The Lake provided a memorable education for Dr. Fernandez. “My major was biology with a minor in chemistry,” she says. “My favorite memories are of Dr. Rainwater’s outdoor research, Dr. Hall’s laboratory rats and frogs and Dr. Villaescusa’s chemical experiments. I remember loving science so much, and my professors making it even more exciting and interesting. They were so approachable. I didn’t need an appointment to see them. I could just walk up to their offices, knock and sit down and talk to them. I don’t think many universities can say that.”
A generation earlier, teaching Sisters made a lasting impact on Gladys Confrel Keene. “I treasured the religious education I received at Our Lady of the Lake,” she says, “and the theology, which I would have never received anywhere else. I was given a foundation for the rest of my life. I was taught how I should conduct myself as an adult and how to integrate not only religion and morality, but also family into my life. I have wonderful memories there.”