Strength of spirit
As a cross country and track and field coach with more than 40 years experience in the Rogue Valley, Hans Voskes knows quite a bit about being in the right place at the right time.
In the past 13 weeks, his life ultimately has depended on it.
A veteran coach with stops at Phoenix High, Southern Oregon University, North Medford High and, most recently, Ashland High, the 68-year-old Voskes has endured a medical whirlwind and is now happily at home and eager to get back to his love of coaching.
And although it continues to be a day-to-day process as Voskes regains his strength from a bout with sepsis that resulted in some initial organ failure to emergency surgery on an aneurysm of the descending aorta, he made his priorities very clear last Monday as he sat and spoke with his Ashland High track athletes with wife Joan by his side.
Voskes had only been released from Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland on the Friday before the Medford Rotary Relays — put on by his son Piet Voskes, North Medford’s head coach in track and field and cross country — and there he was, softly speaking to his Grizzlies.
“Seventy-two days in the hospital and his first instinct is to be there for kids,” said Piet Voskes on Monday in proud amazement at his father’s strength of spirit.
“He’s handled adversity awfully well after 22 hours of surgery and 70-plus days in the hospital with 5½ weeks at OHSU,” he added. “He was just extremely fortunate to be in the hands of incredible doctors here in the Rogue Valley and incredible surgeons up at OHSU.”
Hans Voskes is certainly not out of the woods at this point, but he’s well on his way to energizing those around him once again.
“He’s probably going to have to deal with the after effects of sepsis and the aneurysm for quite a while but his desire to continue to work with kids and show up at track practice three days after he’s released from the hospital is just amazing to me,” said Piet Voskes.
Really, everything about Hans Voskes’ story is amazing.
And much of it has to do with timing, be it with those around him or the medical advances of today.
It was toward the end of the Abby’s Holiday Basketball Classic, in which Piet Voskes serves as announcer and Hans Voskes typically is right behind him taking in all the action, that the elder Voskes began to show signs of decreasing health. He was absent from the tourney and thankfully it didn’t take long or much prodding to get him to go into the hospital to check things out.
Having a wife with 40 years experience as a pediatric nurse who specialized in risk management was his first blessing.
“She flagged a lot of stuff and it was very clear how serious this was for everybody from those first moments,” said Piet Voskes.
After three weeks of battling sepsis, things got even more turbulent for the Voskes family only 24 hours from his release at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. Once again, something just seemed off kilter and he was escorted back to the hospital.
“While he was there an aneurysm ruptured and really it was not related to the sepsis, he was just in the right place at the right time,” said Piet Voskes. “It was amazing, the sepsis alone to a certain degree saved him because it kept him off blood thinners and kept the aneurysm from completely rupturing.”
In the wake of his own personal turmoil following his son Ryan’s tragic death in a car accident, renowned local surgeon Dr. David Folsom operated on Hans Voskes shortly after the funeral and drained a liter of blood that had collected in his patient’s left lung. While doing so, it was Folsom who discovered the aneurysm and quickly called for the elder Voskes to be airlifted to OHSU for what stood to be a complicated surgery.
At OHSU, all the lines to Hans Voskes’ intestines, kidney and liver had to be synthetically redone before placing a stent in for relief. What was expected to be a 10-13 hour surgery lasted 22 hours.
“Basically what most surgeons have said is he’s very fortunate to have that happen now,” said Piet Voskes. “If this had happened 10 years ago, he probably wouldn’t be here now.”
In fact, the hereditary aneurysm condition took the life of Hans Voskes’ father years ago and has been a point of interest in staying on top of things for the entire family since then.
Through it all, beyond the medical innovations, one thing that helped keep Hans Voskes going was his incredible level of health going into the surgeries.
“They were all blown away by how much his body could handle, everything was so fit with his heart and everything else,” said Piet Voskes. “He went through what is a pretty risky surgery with a high mortality rate and right now he’s passed every benchmark. I think his Dutch stubbornness has led him to where he’s at.”
That and an immense outpouring from those who have crossed his path since he started coaching for the first time at Phoenix High in 1978.
“The outpouring of support has been unbelievable,” said Piet Voskes. “It was a unique situation and he was truly really, really sick and it could’ve gone either way and was kind of scary at times, and just to see a life well-lived and see how many people he taught and coached reach out to him was amazing. The emails were endless and it was just the best medicine you could ask for. What was also amazing was how many opposing coaches and administrators came and visited him while in the hospital.”
Hans Voskes spent 10 years at Phoenix before taking over at SOU from 1989-98. He returned to Phoenix from 2000-2009. He then moved to Ashland High for the 2009-10 school year and has been its track and field coach to this day, although Rosie Converse-Soriano has stepped in on an interim basis this spring to give him time to recover.
“I think Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper has done an incredible job of making sure all the kids were taken care of and making sure they had an incredible track season,” said Piet Voskes. “Most important for him now is to just be there and be positive for the kids and letting them know you handle adversity and get through stuff, you keep a positive attitude and you do what you need to do and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
To say the entire ordeal has been a distraction for Piet and the Voskes family would be an understatement, with Piet and his sisters Anna, Kristina and Alie (an Ashland High senior) making weekend trips to OHSU through it all as they took shifts staying by their parents’ side.
However, it also offered an opportunity to step back and look at the incredible impact their father has had on those beyond their family as well as cherish the moments of how tight-knit their family bond truly is.
“That’s the best part, you see the impact you’ve had on people when you go through something like this and we as a family saw it and he’s bound and determined to do anything he can to keep doing it,” said Piet Voskes. “He’s a pretty special guy.”
And, thankfully, continues to have perfect timing.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry