Editor's note: In memory
Egbert (Bert) J. de Vries, MD, passed away at the age of 57 on October 5, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his wife, Christine, by his side. Soon after his passing, Christine was able to gift their specially equipped van to another family with special needs. Bert’s blessing lives on.
Bert de Vries has always loved the sea. But now he is sailing into uncharted waters. With a terminal diagnosis of ALS looming ahead, Bert is headed straight into a storm of suffering. Accompanying him on the journey is his wife, Christine, his friend, Roy Moore, and many other close friends in the tight-knit community of givers at NCF South Florida in Fort Lauderdale. They all know that inevitably Roy must go where they cannot follow. But for as long they can, Bert’s loved ones will make sure he has a way to get there...on his own terms...and in his own graceful way.
As the son of a missionary physician, Bert de Vries’ life seemed set on a steady course. With a foundation of faith, a mind for medicine, and a steady hand, Bert was destined to become a talented surgeon. One of his teachers even remarked that Bert had one of the most gifted sets of hands that he’d ever had the opportunity to train.
In time, Bert became one of the world’s leading cancer surgeons, president of the medical staff of one of New York City’s biggest hospitals, and a board member of a prominent corporation that oversaw 400 physicians taking care of New York City’s poor and indigent. But this kind of success didn’t come without a spiritual price. Bert explains, “The jobs that I had certainly came with worldly rewards, and I enjoyed them. I was working to a higher and higher level, so I could get the bigger boat, and the faster car. All the while I thought I was doing God’s work, never fully realizing the treadmill that I was on.”
A SUDDEN CHANGE OF COURSE
Life sailed along smoothly until Bert developed a tremor in his right hand. He explains, “When the symptoms started, I hid them from everybody. One of my talents is my intellect and my gift as a surgeon, so rather than admit what was going wrong, I was able to show off and do surgery with my left hand.”
Eventually, Bert’s condition deteriorated to the point where he was forced to seek a diagnosis. His fears were confirmed when he received the news that he had ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Ironically, Bert’s pastor was preaching on the book of Job during this time and extraordinary things started to happen in his faith. Bert says, “Christine and I were walking out of church that day, smiling and almost skipping, if that’s possible. We looked at each other and said, ‘Thank God for ALS.’ That was a real transcendent moment for us.”
As the months passed and Bert’s muscles began to weaken, the time came for him to transition to life in a wheelchair. But this change presented a tough, new challenge -- transportation. This is when NCF giver, Roy Moore, stepped in with a generous offer to purchase a top of the line, specially equipped van that would allow Bert to easily maneuver in and out. Through an event sponsored by NCF South Florida, Roy heard Bert give his testimony and was moved to get involved.
“I was thinking about buying a boat at the time,” says Roy. “When I heard about this need, it was like God said, ‘There’s your boat.’ This is the land boat that Bert needs. I knew Bert enjoyed being out on the ocean, and I didn’t want it to be something he would ‘get-by’ with. I wanted it to be a testimony.” The local team at NCF South Florida helped Roy facilitate the gift of Bert's specially equipped van through NCF’s partner organization, Helping Hands Ministries. By using Helping Hands, the team helped the gift qualify for a tax deduction and provided a way for the van to eventually be passed on to another ALS patient.
Christine says, “NCF has really evolved into a Christian community and a real family for us. I feel safer. There are lots of places in the world to go to when you’re struggling and there are people with wrong motives so Bert and I are careful. As I look at my future, I feel like there is a family that I can depend on with NCF.”
THE ANCHOR OF FAITH
With each passing day, Bert pushes further into his fateful journey. Those around him can see that his faith grows deeper still. “This disease has taken me from a place where I knew God and knew He was in control of my life to a place where I needed God and gave up control of my life,” says Bert. “I have no more special gifts or skills to offer. If the chief purpose of man is to glorify God, at this point that’s all I have left.”