Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Finding solutions

Dr. Craig Keever uses plant-based nutrition for health issues.


Changing his lifestyle to revolve around a plantbased diet completely changed Craig Keever’s life. Actually, you might even go so far as to say it eventually saved his life.

A few short years ago, Keever says, he was nearly 300 pounds, had high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. He was on four medications, one to manage cholesterol, and then soon added a fifth, Trulicity, because his blood sugar was not under control.

“I was a full-on carnivore at that time,” Keever said with a laugh. After he watched the 2011 documentary “Forks Over Knives,” he developed a general interest in the ways that plant-based living could benefit him. He dabbled in it, but being surrounded primarily by other carnivores like himself meant he didn’t have the sort of community that could help him make it more a realistic option.

It was only a week after watching the documentary that Keever received the greater wake-up call. Craig woke up with poor energy that day, achy and with shoulder pain. He attempted to shrug it off so he could carry on with his work as a pediatrician. He saw the first few children of the day, but he still wasn’t feeling right.

He told the nurse he worked with, who checked his blood pressure and then urged him to go to the emergency room. Reluctant still, Keever called in some medicine, felt better quickly and carried on with seeing patients. Once he got home, though, that pain in the shoulder returned, so Craig finally checked into the ER and spent a night in the hospital — as a patient himself — who was experiencing a hypertensive episode.

Since then, Craig Keever has been committed to changing his lifestyle by eating more whole foods and eventually adopting that plant-based diet that he loosely refers to as veganism. He’s lost nearly 100 pounds, his cholesterol is back in a healthy range, and he’s off medication entirely. He’s found

“Four of the top 10 killers are related to nutrition — heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. What am I doing as a pediatrician to change those stats? I want to influence (children and others) to eat in a way that won’t give them this.” —Dr. Craig Keever, first plant-based pediatrician in Northwest Arkansas

more energy and better sleep, having been weaned off the CPAP machine, and he credits the quality of food for all of those positive changes.

That’s why Keever made it a bit of a personal mission to help others in Northwest Arkansas adopt similarly healthy lifestyles. The first certified plant-based pediatrician in the region, he was certified through Cornell University last year and is beginning to implement the idea more in his practice at Ozark Pediatrics.

“Four of the top 10 killers are related to nutrition — heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes,” Keever said. With that in mind, he thought to himself, “What am I doing as a pediatrician to change those stats? I want to influence (children and others) to eat in a way that won’t give them this.

“Scientifically speaking, it’s the healthiest way of eating.”

Keever likens himself to the doctors who first adopted the habit of encouraging patients not to smoke, since they saw that it caused cancer. He says he’s “that guy” for the standard American diet. Craig and wife Amy have begun to form a plantbased community in Northwest Arkansas by utilizing a Facebook page where they share tips for nutrition.

More recently, they’ve been hosting potlucks to show others how good the food they’ve adopted can be. Wendy Jarvis, an occupational therapist who refers patients to Keever’s pediatric practice, recently attended one of those events, and it had an immediate effect on her.

“Me and my husband would like to have better health, so we’re cutting out dairy to get healthier so we don’t have health problems down the road,” Jarvis said. The event was eye-opening, gave her a chance to sample vegan products and was chock full of resources for beginners. She went home and immediately ordered one of the books the Keevers presented.

“They’re good at saying you don’t have to do this 100% all in. They encourage you to do it gradually, do what you can do.”


Craig Keever grew up in Topeka, Kan., and when he finished high school in 1980, he was so determined to never again set foot in a school that he wrote that on his graduation cap.

“No more for me,” he said. Keever took a job working as a mental health technician and followed that work for about nine years, serving two different psych units and a local hospital. He worked primarily with children, but some adults too.

When he realized that his salary wasn’t all that great, and his position wasn’t going to get much better, he began to view the physicians around him in a different light. Looking at the well-respected professionals, it dawned on him what an education could truly do.

Keever entered the bridge program, thinking he would take the path to becoming a registered nurse. During the first semester of college, he found a love of cellular biology and began to think twice about a major that graded his ability to make a bed. He was going to give medicine his best shot and focused on getting into medical school.

Keever earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and then did just that, starting medical school at the University of Kansas in 1989. He simultaneously joined the Army to help pay for the education. An internship in his first year of post-graduate medical education took Keever to Honolulu, where he had lots of exposure to typical, continental U.S. conditions and some lesser known Pacific Island ailments.

In Honolulu, there were more cases of tuberculosis, and they took a variety of forms, showing up not just in the lungs, but in people’s bones and liver. Keever also saw other forms of cancer and tropical diseases he hadn’t encountered. It was also the first place he treated the Marshallese population.

When the Army gave him a choice of heading to Korea or becoming a flight surgeon in a small town in southern Georgia, Keever mistakenly thought that would be the last he would see of the

Marshallese people. He chose the flight surgeon gig, becoming essentially a family practice doctor for pilots and support staff like the air traffic controllers and their families.

Following that, Keever arrived at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City and found himself learning in the footsteps of Dr. Mary Anne Jackson.

He envied her ability to answer just about any question with a line verbatim from the book she read it in, he said, and for her aura of compassion in dealing with kids.

As a young doctor, Keever’s main learning curve was building the skill of being able to work while tired.

“Being on call every third night, you’d get an hour or two of sleep if you were lucky, then you’d be at your post first thing in the morning,” he said. Being on call works differently now, with residents working in shifts. And while he can see the benefit of doing it that way, his personal experience gave him a sense that he was personally responsible for his patients. “The thing

I could rest in, so to speak, was knowing that all of my major decisions as a tired intern were overlooked by a senior resident and attendant.”

Serious mistakes were still possible, but the risk was much lower having every move supervised. Regardless, it was a solid educational process.

While beginning to choose a specialty, Keever initially leaned toward child psychiatry, given his early work experience. But as he began to do rotations, he tried on each specialty and kept an open mind. With each one he asked himself

“Could I retire doing this?”

Pediatrics was the fourth rotation and of the first three, nothing had gelled.

“I got to pediatrics and almost instantly, I knew ‘I’m home,’” Keever said. “It was just a perfect match.”

Only a few weeks into that rotation, he made his decision. During his residency at Children’s Mercy,

Keever was required to do a year of hematology and considered subspecializing in it. On day one, he faced a kid the same age that his son was at the time, and realized he wasn’t cut out for that particular work.

“Any pediatric practice will face (patients with) serious illness and occasionally death,” he said. “But not like you do there.”


Craig Keever arrived in Northwest Arkansas in 2002 and spent eight years working for Northwest Health. He then joined Bentonville Pediatrics for more than four years before returning to Northwest briefly for a couple more.

Keever didn’t like how much say big medical corporations had over how physicians saw their patients and how many they saw per day, not to mention the hands-off attitude for the economic side. But at Bentonville Pediatrics, Craig got more of a sense of what it would be like to run the business aspect of a private clinic.

His brief return to the hospital setting only emphasized to him the many things he would want to do differently if he had his very own practice, so he began to look for his own place.

Jeff Pederson helped him with the real estate venture and got to know Keever much better through all those calls, emails and trips to potential locations.

“The courage he had to go and open a business, go through sacrifices, and see that pay off is rewarding,” Pederson said. He helped Craig find just the right location to lease for his private practice, but now Keever owns the building. “That’s an American success story. No one gave him what he has; he’s earned every single thing, while serving his country. That’s pretty selfless, if you think about it.”

Pederson said you’d never know how smart and educated Keever is, just judging him by the way he speaks to people, calling him friendly and humble in relationships, caring, atten- tive and fun.

As a result of finding the right location, Keever went out on his own and opened Ozark Pediatrics, which celebrated seven years of operation this month.

“He’s a good pediatrician,” Wendy Jarvis said. “He listens to parents, and he gets it. He’s very knowledgeable and … good at communicating, meeting people where they are at.”

Jarvis said Keever knows his patients by name, but that he’s quick to help anyone who needs it. When she had a patient who was in a car wreck and air-lifted out of the state, unable to return due to funding, it was Craig that she called to ask for advice of what to do.

“He was quick to jump in and do that, even though it was not his patient,” she said. “He’s that kind of guy you can always depend on.”

Paul Price knows Keever in the context of playing harp guitar — the two of them traveled to North Carolina for a harp guitar gathering — and describes Craig as the upbeat, honest guy who will bend over backward for people.

Price never had Keever as a doctor, but he is an unofficial consult.

“His demeanor is incredibly welcoming and open and honest and articulate,” Price said. “He’s not pushy, but he has strong beliefs. He has faith and is into his plantbased food, and that’s helped him become healthier.”

Though Price is not on the same diet himself, he finds Craig and wife Amy very welcoming and never without a smile.

“Craig’s committed to everything, his beliefs and everything he’s into,” Price said. “He does what he says he’s going to do.”

Friend Charlie Platt agrees, calling Keever “about as straight a shooter as you’ve ever met, an honest, good man.” The two met in a support group and shared deep, meaningful things with each other early on. Platt has always known that Craig was the kind of guy who had your back.

“He’s such a kind, generous individual, there’s just not a lot of people (like that) out there nowadays,” Platt said. “People have shorter tempers and are in a rush to do something, and when you come across someone like Craig that is as genuine and caring as he is, it struck a chord.”

Platt too has watched Keever’s transformation and seen “Forks Over Knives” at his suggestion. While it didn’t keep Charlie from eating meat entirely, it has caused him to think more seriously about the role food plays within the big picture and the importance of continued exercise and fitness.

“It’s been amazing to watch him go through that transition,” Platt said, remembering when Keever wasn’t as healthy. “He was a busy doctor. If you think about what he was surviving on, when you’re in a stage of life trying to make your practice work and get things going, you don’t focus that hard on eating to survive, not what I’m putting in my body.”

Platt’s friend has had an impact on him for the occasional wisdom he’ll impart, like the fact that you can’t out-workout a bad diet. But mostly it’s the unsaid that does it for him, especially as he shares the dinner table with Craig and Amy.

“They never say ‘You shouldn’t do this or that,’ they lead by example,” Platt said. “Watching the transformation he’s gone through and the perspective it takes to make a conscious choice later in life, when we’re set in our ways, is impressive.”

Front Page