In Memoriam: Dr. Theodorus ‘Dick’ van der Vaart

Doctor Dick van der Vaart (right) and colleague general practitioner Van der Heijden. Photo: Hubert Linkels Archive

KRALENDIJK – On Monday evening, May 6th 2024, Dr. Theodorus ‘Dick’ van der Vaart, founder of Centro Medico Central (CMC) on Bonaire, passed away at the age of 74. Van der Vaart was a well-known and respected doctor on the island. After starting at the Tera Kòrá clinic, he opened his own practice building opposite the hospital. In addition to his medical work, Van der Vaart devoted himself wholeheartedly to the establishment of the recompression chamber on Bonaire, crucial for the safety of divers on the island.

This letter has been submitted by the Board and Team of the Recompression Chamber

Passing of colleague and founder of the Recompression Chamber Bonaire  

Dr. van der Vaart is remembered dearly by the many people he has touched.  He was one of the busiest GP’s on the island, from when there were only a few. He was an active musician, playing the drums in many bands through the years.  He may be known best for setting up and maintaining the Recompression Facility on Bonaire.  Almost 40 years ago, he saw the need and arranged the donation and delivery of the first recompression chamber.  This not only saved and improved countless lives but was part of the basis that elevated Bonaire to be one of the top dive destinations. You are not likely to find anyone from the island that does not know him or at least of him. He passed away on Monday night.

He developed a small but strong team that manned the chamber both inside and out.  Much of the staff has worked with him for decades, demonstrating his ability to create and maintain a strong team.  In the early days when there were only a few GP’s on the island, he would often be juggling emergencies, running next door to deliver a baby or set a broken limb while the diver was tended to inside the chamber.  To put the time frame into perspective, not only was this before cell phones, most people did not even have home phones, so he had to send the police to find the staff in the middle of the night.

The chamber began for the divers, however shortly thereafter Dr. van der Vaart saw the possibilities of healing wounds that would otherwise never heal. He successfully saved innumerable limbs from amputation.  He has treated patients for almost each of the various approved ailments that can be treated in the chamber.  Not only did he need to train doctors and nurses to work at the chamber, but it was also a big challenge to train the doctors, not involved in the chamber, about what types of things can be done, so that they refer the patients that can be helped.  To some this big tube looks like witch doctoring and takes some convincing, but the results spoke for themselves.

With careful management, he was able to upgrade the facility with a new chamber and building, bringing us to have a state-of-the-art facility, considered one of the best in the Caribbean. After his colleague was taken by COVID, he was on call 24/7/365 for all the COVID shut down and more.  Only for his passion for the chamber and the patients was he able manage the chamber from its inception to, and past his retirement from his GP position where he played a huge role in the health of the island population.

In 2022 the King was pleased to appoint him Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau.

It is with unending respect and regret that we as Board and Team of the Recompression Chamber bid him farewell and send our heartfelt condolences and support to his family and friends.

In September 2023, an enlightening article on chronicled the remarkable story of Dr. Van der Vaart and his groundbreaking work with the decompression chamber. For those eager to immerse themselves in this compelling tale of innovation and perseverance, we invite you to read the full article here: The Story of Dr. Van der Vaart and the Decompression Chamber on Bonaire

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