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At the age of 46 the Dutch ophthalmologist Jan Kok died on 21 November 1998. Jan did not survive complications associated with a bone marrow transplant he received to treat the multiple myeloma from which he suffered. He was trained as an ophthalmologist at the Rotterdam Eye Hospital and started his career as head of the contact lens department of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam. His research in this field resulted in a PhD thesis entitled “New developments in the field of contact lenses” which was widely distributed. With his ambitions in anterior segment surgery he followed in the footsteps of his mother, Clariet Kok- van Alphen, the pioneer of corneal transplantations in the Netherlands. Like his mother, Jan was an innovative person continuously trying to implement new techniques and procedures to improve the efficiency in both the outpatient department as well as in the operating theatre. The bureaucracy of a university department of ophthalmology did not allow Jan to fulfil his dreams and in 1993 he joined a private hospital, the “Jan van Gooyen” clinic in Amsterdam. With a small team an extremely efficient procedure for cataract surgery and aftercare was developed and although private hospitals were not officially recognised by the government, a contract was signed with the local health insurance agency to clear the long waiting lists for cataract patients.
Besides developing his skills as an anterior segment surgeon he kept a strong interest in the contact lens field with an emphasis on the use of contact lenses for therapeutic purposes. He was active in the organisation of meetings and, although he was already ill, he played an important role in the organisation of the satellite contact lens symposium held jointly with the 1998 International Congress of Ophthalmology in Amsterdam. Many people enjoyed working with him, because he showed an interest in individuals irrespective of their background and admired them for their personal skills. He was a strong advocate of a close collaboration between ophthalmologists and optometrists and opticians. Many worked very closely with him in various facets of the care for the elderly cataract patient. Jan had a special way to show his gratitude, independent of whether you were a secretary, nurse, or colleague. It was not a simple “thank you”; he gave you the feeling you had done something very special for him and would often accompany it with a funny postcard.
Jan was not only interested in the treatment of patients in his own country, but was also committed to the treatment of blindness globally. Soon after finishing his training as an ophthalmologist he often went to Nepal to operate on patients in remote mountain areas. Together with Nepalese ophthalmologists he helped improve the local organisation to treat blindness. Back in Holland he had developed an original way to fund this programme. Each cataract operation he performed was taped on a video and patients were able to buy the tape, whereby that income, together with extra donations, went into the special “Nepal fund” Jan had organised.
With the number of cataracts Jan performed in the last years of his life, a substantial amount of money was collected. The fund was used to train local personnel, organise cataract workshops, and support a local eye bank. His goal to improve eye care for poor people will continue thanks to the fund that now carries his name.
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