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Kamloops doctor succumbs to injuries sustained in cycling collision

Andrew van der Westhuizen collided with a commercial truck on May 11 and passed away on June 30
Andrew van der Westhuizen mug
Andrew van der Westhuizen

A Kamloops doctor who was injured in a cycling accident in May has died.

Andrew van der Westhuizen, 36, spent seven weeks in the intensive-care unit at Vancouver General Hospital before succumbing to traumatic internal injuries on June 30, his wife, Jen van der Westhuizen, confirmed in a social media post.

On May 11, Andrew was biking north (down) on Highland Road from Juniper Ridge along a multi-use pathway when he collided with a water truck that was travelling in the same direction and turned right, in front of Andrew, to access a dumping zone utilized by construction in the area.

Andrew was rushed to hospital with internal injuries, broken ribs and a concussion, underwent multiple surgeries over several weeks and given about 100 units of blood product. He managed to communicate non-verbally while in hospital, unable to talk as he has a tracheostomy tube helping him breathe.

Andrew, a radiologist at Royal Inland Hospital, and Jen moved to Kamloops with their two young children about a year ago.

“Today we said goodbye to one of the most wonderful, loving and kind human beings I have met, and will ever meet, my sweet husband,” Jen wrote in a Facebook post on June 30. “He had many titles, not limited to, but including; son, brother, husband, father, friend, colleague, teammate and neighbour. His warmth and love will be forever cherished and he will be greatly missed.”

Jen told KTW via phone on Tuesday Andrew was awaiting a liver transplant when he passed away.

“His injuries were just too great,” she said. “He just wasn’t healing and it was a catch-22 in the sense that he wasn’t healing because his liver wasn’t working, but his liver wasn’t working because he needed a new liver, but they couldn’t give him a new liver until he healed a little bit more.”

Jen said family support has been invaluable in helping to cope with Andrew’s passing, which has changed plans for Jen and her children as they had moved here for Andrew's job and had just begun to get situated in Kamloops.

Following 10 years of medical school in Vancouver and two years as a locum physician in Victoria, Andrew had secured full-time work at Royal Inland Hospital last year and the couple was planning to call Kamloops home for a long time after investing years of hard work into Andrew’s medical career.

“We were starting the next chapter,” Jen said. “This last year was such a blessing. Andrew was so happy in his life. He had reached a point in his career where he was secure and extremely happy with the radiology group in Kamloops and it was just the perfect fit.”

The couple had found a good work-life balance and was looking forward to planning trips and doing more activities with their children, who are six and two.

Andrew and Jen were high school sweethearts, having dated since Grade 11, when they attended St. Michaels University School in Victoria.

“We already had a lifetime together,” Jen said, noting they had been together for 19 years and were set to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary in August. “I’m so thankful to have had that.”

While Andrew was in hospital, Jen split time between Kamloops and the Lower Mainland to see her husband and lauded the medical care and empathy Andrew received from his doctors and nurses despite challenges they face in their work. She also asked that people consider making blood donations and register for organ donation.

Jen has also advocated for better bicycle safety since the crash. In an earlier interview with KTW, she called for flaggers along Highland Road to improve safety between cyclists and crossing trucks and noted the need for additional access routes in and out of Juniper.

Jen said that while she’s gutted by the preventable loss of her husband, she holds no bitterness toward the driver of the water truck, noting the burden one bears knowing thy are responsible for a death.

“My heart goes out to him,” she said.

The City of Kamloops has told KTW it intends to monitor traffic activity along Highland Road over the summer to determine if any improvements and/or pilot projects should be implemented to enhance safety along the corridor.