In Memoriam Kees Dejong

Kees Dejong

"Making Better"

'Making the patient better' was the central motto of Kees Dejong, Professor of Hepato Pancreato Bilial Surgery at the azM/MUMC+. His entire career was dedicated to optimizing care for the seriously ill patient whose care was entrusted to him. Always with an eye for the person behind the patient and looking for solutions when many no longer saw a way out.  Making things better' was often Kees' concluding remark when a complex patient case was discussed during the multi-disciplinary consultation.

'Making better' was unfortunately not an option for the disease he himself was afflicted with and which forced him to end his career early. How much he would have loved to continue working to care for his patients.

Kees was married to Odile, his beloved with whom he shared his life since high school. Together they had four children, Giulia, Anne Linde, Kaspar and Job, and three grandchildren.

A native of Maastricht, after studying Medicine in Nijmegen, he returned to his hometown for his doctoral research (1993, on metabolic changes in liver failure) and to train as a surgeon. Kees was privileged to have had great teachers in a Master-Seer position: in translational research from P. Soeters, W. Buurman and K. Fearon and in surgery from K. van Duin, OJ Garden and KK Madavan. 

Kees completed his education as a surgeon in 1997. Since 1998, he worked as a surgeon at Maastricht UMC+. From 1998 to 2000, he also worked as Senior Lecturer and Consultant Surgeon within the Department of Surgery at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 2008, Kees was appointed Professor of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery within the MUMC+ and held the role of Head of the Division of Gastrointestinal and Oncological Surgery from 2008 to 2018. He also served as Vice Chairman of the Department of Surgery from 2007-2009.

Kees' clinical focus was primarily in the area of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery and optimizing peri-operative care, including Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS). He was a founding member of the ERAS Society and was instrumental in establishing laparoscopic liver surgery in the Netherlands.

Kees Dejong held many (inter)national leading roles. For example, he was Editor of the British Journal of Surgery from 2007 to 2019, President of the Dutch Liver Working Group, President of the Dutch Chapter of the International Hepato Pancreato Biliary Association (IHPBA), Vice President of the Dutch Society of Gastroenterology, Secretary General of the European-African HPB Association and, until he became ill, Secretary General Elect of the IHPBA.

Kees had a great passion for transferring knowledge. Within MUMC+ he fulfilled the role of acting trainer for fourteen years and shaped this position with enthusiasm. Consequently, he was invariably at the top of the annual survey of role models in the department. In recent years he was increasingly active internationally, where he was the founder of the international examination to become an HPB surgeon (UEMS).

His main research interests were improving patients' clinical outcomes and the role of the gut-liver axis in the disease process. Early in his career, he was awarded a prestigious Clinical Fellowship from NWO that enabled him, from 2001-2006, to start his own line of research around liver failure. This was later extended to metabolism and ischaemia-reperfusion injury and metabolic disturbances in the gut-liver axis and optimizing the peri-operative condition of the patient.

He introduced ERAS principles in HPB surgery and led a large implementation study of these in 31 Dutch hospitals. Kees directed the Metabolic Laboratory of the Department of Surgery between 2006-2012 (with Prof. Dr. Buurman) and was very active within the research school NUTRIM. As supervisor, he supervised 32 young scientists and published more than 400 Wi-1 articles.

Kees received (inter)national recognition for his contribution to the clinical and scientific profession by, among others, the Glaxo Gastroenterology prize for best dissertation (1994), the Niels Stensen Stipendiate (1998), the appointment as Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (ad hominem; 2014), the Frieda den Hartog Jager prize of the Dutch Society of Gastroenterology (2020) and Honorary Membership of the IHPBA in 2022.

“If I have seen further it, is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.

With this quote from Bernard de Chartres (and Isaac Newton), Kees accepted the gold medal of the Dutch Society of Surgery in January 2022. This award was given to Kees because of the special significance and influence he has had, both nationally and internationally, for the development of Dutch surgery.

Kees was an excellent clinician and scientist who pioneered hepatobiliary surgery in Maastricht and far beyond. Above all, he was an extraordinarily warm human being, a hospitable Burgundian, a Francophile with his own vineyard. Someone who possessed enormous wisdom and was a very committed mentor to his PhD students whom he provided with fatherly advice.

With the passing of Kees Dejong, we lose a very special person, an outstanding colleague, an example to us all.