At the age of seven, she was homeless, living in a car with her mother and younger brother. When she was 14, her mother died of alcohol abuse. Her father, who was in and out of her life, died of a cocaine overdose. The first of her three children was diagnosed with autism.
At age 30, Faun Botor became a member of the charter class of the UNLV School of Medicine.
Talk about the resiliency of the human spirit.
You see her entering University Medical Center —
UMC is the medical school’s main training hospital —
and she’s smiling, asking you about your day. Her jam-packed day, one that starts with getting her little ones ready for an autism clinic or daycare, is going wonderfully, she says.
So it goes when you’re living your dream.
“When I was in eighth grade, my mother
(she worked either as a casino dealer or housekeeper)
was in and out of the hospital due to liver and renal failure. As weird as it sounds, when I was there, I felt at home. I loved being around the nurses and physicians... the smell of a hospital. That was when I knew I wanted to become a doctor,” she says. “Over the years though, that dream went on the backburner as I explored other career paths, got married and started a family. I eventually became a sonographer and worked in OB/GYN and perinatology (high risk obstetrics) for a few years before my passion for medicine became reignited at the age of 26. I went back to school to finish my prerequisites
(at Nevada State College)
while working and continuing to grow my family. I finally applied and got accepted to UNLV School of Medicine at 29-years-old and now at 31 I am finishing my first year.”
What reignited her dream of becoming a doctor five years ago was her year-and-a-half old son’s need for surgery to correct a congenital hernia.
“Dr. (Clare) Close was his physician, and before he went back to the OR I was so anxious, scared, and all the other emotions a first-time mom feels when their child is about to go into surgery. She came to my husband and I and explained everything in such a calm and competent way that all our fears were alleviated. At that moment I realized that I wanted to have that kind of influence with patients and parents. I knew then that I wanted to pursue medical school.”
Born in Maryland, Botor’s memories of her time in Florida —
she lived there from second through fifth grade —
are delivered matter of factly, yet describe chaos. Moving from apartment to apartment and sometimes living in a car with food scarce, she remembers that her mother drank heavily. “She was a very happy drunk, even though we were pretty poor. I had to take on a lot of responsibility, taking care of my younger brother, cleaning, cooking and paying bills.”
She says that experience and what followed when her family moved to Nevada —
she continued to manage the household when her mother worked at a casino —
taught her “what responsibility was. It showed me I didn’t want to go down that route.”
Her schoolwork didn’t suffer. “It was my escape. I wanted to do well. I always found time to study.”
After Botor’s mother died while she was in middle school, her aunt and uncle raised her and her brother, giving them more of a chance to succeed. Her brother is now getting a master’s degree at the University of Nevada. “We went from being poor to strictly middle class. There was a lot more structure, a lot of rules….Neither of my parents had a college degree, but my aunt went back to college and became a school teacher later in life, which showed me that it’s never too late to follow your dream.”
Her aunt and uncle helped her get into Clark High School’s math and technology program. Working after school at Dairy Queen and as a flag football referee, she was an all “A” student, graduating as valedictorian. She then entered the University of Nevada at Reno on scholarship. There, she tutored students, worked as a lifeguard and taught swim classes for spending money.
After two years in college, she decided she wanted to see Europe. She taught English to survive. She also met her future husband, Daniel Botor, a native of Poland.
“He was from a small coal mining town —
coal dust was everywhere. But it was really nice to a have a really close family.”
At the age of 24, she learned her father had died of a drug overdose. “I knew he was addicted to gambling but I had no idea he was into drugs until later. I learned he had been arrested for drug related charges... Sometimes when we saw him he was super nice to me and my brother. I think it was a guilt thing and he’d buy us something nice.”
After marriage, Botor started college again, this time at UNLV. In 2011, she earned a degree in comprehensive medical imaging, with a 3.8 grade point average. “I just wanted to get a degree so we could start a family.”
A couple years later her dream of becoming a doctor resurfaced. “My first day at Nevada State I was on the verge of tears. I kept wondering if it was the right thing to do. My husband and I discussed it a lot. I just had a child. It was while I was at Nevada State that our son was diagnosed with autism. His teacher had been worried that he had a hearing problem... getting that diagnosis was not an easy day. He is verbal... his behaviors are pretty good, he’s not too disruptive. He’s making progress but we’re pretty sure he won’t be able to live independently.”
Now with their three children —
Alexander, 6, Matthew, 2, and Lillian, 1 —
the Botors have to carefully coordinate their schedules. “My husband is a cage supervisor at a casino and we’re lucky he works the graveyard shift. Sometimes he takes the kids to the clinic or daycare and sometimes I do. It’s not easy, but it’s working.”
She studies largely when the children are sleeping. She thinks often of Gary and Debra Ackerman, who provided her with a full scholarship to medical school. “They are amazing people with big hearts. I get to see them quite often.”
Following medical school, Botor says she’ll probably do a residency in either pediatrics or OB/GYN. “I’ll be 37 or 38 when I’m done but that still gives me around 25 years of helping people as a doctor.”
She’ll also be sharing her life experience with young people.
“I try to stick around kids as much as possible. I want them to know that there may be hardships in life but you can find a way to a better future.”