Cayman mourns passing of ‘Dr. Frits’ Hendriks

Leading kidney specialist; a popular fixture, consultant and visionary in the medical profession; highly regarded by colleagues, friends and patients alike, Dr. Frits Hendriks has died at the age of 66.

Dr. Godefridus Hendriks, MD, Ph.D, internist and nephrologist, known popularly as “Dr. Frits,” died Sept. 4 of complications in Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospital at 1 a.m. where he was being treated for cancer, which he had been fighting for three years.

His wife, Adrienne van Oorschot, said he had undergone two days of chemotherapy, but was physically drained: “His body could not fight it anymore, his spirit could, but not his body,” she said.

Services were held Sept. 10, in Houston, Texas. A ceremony in Schiedam, Holland, Dr. Hendriks’ birthplace, is scheduled for October, although no date has been set. No memorial is planned for the Cayman Islands. His cremated ashes have been returned to Holland by his children.

Dr. Hendriks is survived by Ms van Oorschot; his daughter Karin, 40; and son Jeroen, 36; and two grandchildren: Koen, 5, and Tim, 2. Also surviving is his sister Josee, older brother Jeff and twin brother Andre. Stepmother Jacqueline is 93.

Ms van Oorschot described how her husband’s battle with cancer had made him relate even more the struggles his patients faced.

“Being a patient himself, he even more experienced how important personal care is for patients and their families. As a warm person, he touched so many and he was always touched by them himself,” she said.

Born into an artistic family in Schiedam, near Rotterdam, on April 6, 1947, Dr. Hendriks took an early interest in medicine, at age 23 guiding his father through the end stages of a terminal illness.

He initially studied at the University of Leiden, practicing internal medicine, immunohaematology, haemodialysis and kidney transplantation at the University Hospital. He later practiced general internal medicine at The Hague’s Hospital Westeinde, and spent time at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Dr. Hendriks moved through a variety of clinics nationwide, ultimately specializing in nephrology and planning his doctoral dissertation, completing “The Perfect Match,” on the immunogenetics of kidney transplantation, after returning to the University of Leiden.

For many years, he also worked for Eurotransplant, an eight-nation consortium headquartered in Leiden specializing in organ donation and transplants.

In 1997, while working at the University Hospital in Maastricht, he relocated to Aruba, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, where, through the dialysis unit, he oversaw preparation and transport of patients for transplants in Holland. As a result of his efforts, 17 people were able to leave the unit.

He moved to the haemodialysis unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital in 2003, again preparing patients for transplants. At the time, it was illegal to donate or transplant organs in Cayman, forcing patients to transfer overseas, usually the U.S., for the operation. Dr. Henkriks ultimately became medical head of the unit.

In 2005, he sat on an early committee, chaired by Dr. Steve Tomlinson, to address the issue of organ donations. In the same year, he, as chairman, and former Grand Court Justice Priya Levers founded the Cayman Islands Kidney Foundation, seeking to improve the identification of kidney disease, help provide dialysis machines, facilitate kidney-transplant programmes overseas and promote education, research and prevention of kidney disease.

In 2007, he went into private practice, working throughout the island at clinics such as Seven Mile Surgery Center and Camana Bay’s TrinCay Polyclinic.

In 2010, he joined a new Organ and Tissue Transplant Review Committee, chaired by then MLA Ellio Solomon, developing legislation for to legalise transplants in the Cayman Islands.

The committee’s efforts culminated in this year’s passage of a new transplant law, enabling suitable donors to transfer kidneys to patients locally, and eliminating the need to travel overseas for surgery.

Dr. Hendriks was also a member of the International Society of Nephrology and an adjunct professor of clinical sciences at St. Matthew’s University.

Tributes

Tributes to Dr. Hendriks came this week from a host of acquaintances and medical practitioners.

Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, said Dr. Hendriks had been an important member of the Cayman medical community: “I am truly sorry at the news. The entire HSA is deeply saddened at his passing. He worked with us for four years in internal medicine. The Cayman Islands has lost a very competent physician and we are all the poorer for it.”

Longtime colleague Graham Tully, nurse manager of the hospital’s dialysis unit, said Dr. Hendriks “was a very caring man; he always had his patients foremost in mind. He was a great team player. I worked with him for several years, and he was instrumental in establishing our policies and practices.”

Former MLA and chairman of the 2010 transplant review committee Ellio Solomon said Dr. Hendriks would be greatly missed.

“I know that he had a personal passion for this issue, something we very much shared, wanting to see the Cayman Islands advance into this kind of legislation,” Mr. Solomon said, pointing out that local transplant patients previously faced a queue in the U.S. of 90,000 Americans also seeking an organ.

“It meant a lot to him to see that [legislation] accomplished. He was a funny guy, with a great sense of humor, very knowledgeable and a wonderful personality. I enjoyed working with him, and I thank him for his contribution to Cayman.”

His fellow professional and personal friend of a decade, Chris Alagaratnam, a registered nurse in the Cayman Islands Hospital’s Dialysis Unit, said of Dr. Hendriks, “I met him when I came here in 2003 to visit. He was a good guy and we shared the same sort of ideology, providing top-quality patient care. I grew up in the days when things [kidney care] were just being invented, so I have a good knowledge of the infrastructure, the foundation of the business, and, you know, sometimes you just click with people. He and I jelled straightaway.

“He had a thorough knowledge of the subject, a Ph.D. in research. We were both research people. We bonded. I was the brawn of the operation; I knew how to make things happen. He was the brains; he knew the theory.”

Mr. Alagaratnam described Dr. Hendriks as “an extremely humble person.”

“Most of his patients really loved him,” he said. “He was genuine. He never had anything bad to say about anybody, and had the kindest heart in the world – and he would never ask for anything back.”

He tells the story that, for a variety of reasons, Dr. Hendriks opened his home to him post-Ivan. The two families spent a month together, enabling Mr. Algaratnam to pronounce, without hesitation, the doctor “a superb cook.”

”I mean, he was beyond ‘good.’ He could entertain. They looked after us like family,” he said. “If he could help, he didn’t think twice. He had a zest for life and for helping.”

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