Luke Venhuizen-Staff Writer
William Tjeerdsma is no ordinary human being. He is a miracle, a saint, and has a story like no one else.
Tjeerdsma came to Dordt College to become a medical social worker. He seeks this future vocation because he feels he can relate to people receiving this type of care; Tjeerdsma once stood in their shoes.
At 10 months old Tjeerdsma was diagnosed with a large, inoperable brain tumor. He was sent to the Mayo Clinic where he underwent five rounds of intense chemotherapy within a nine month period.
At the end of those nine months, the tumor more than tripled in size, and he was sent home with the belief that he would not live past his second birthday. This news didn’t stop him and his family from fighting for his life, though.
“My parents stayed in faith and believed God would heal me. We believe it was through divine intervention that we heard of a neurosurgeon out in Sacramento at the time.”
This neurosurgeon was Dr. Michael S. B. Edwards, who is now the director of Stanford’s Pediatric Neurosurgery Program at Stanford Medicine in Palo Alto, California.
Tjeerdsma had his first major brain surgery just after he turned two years old, and the surgery was a success. Since that initial procedure, Tjeerdsma has had MRI’s every three-to-six months, that is, up until a couple of years ago. Today, he goes in for a MRI once a year.
In 2004, doctors found a growth once again. He went under for his second major brain surgery at the age of nine. This time he stayed at the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, where Edwards had transferred.
Tjeerdsma went to radiation in the morning, Monday through Friday, and the rest of the day he was free to do as he pleased (within reason). Tjeerdsma spent much of his free time being homeschooled and also volunteering.
“I set a goal to volunteer for 24 hours because that is the amount of hours there is in a day,” said Tjeerdsma.
This goal sparked Tjeerdsma’s passion for volunteering.
He achieved the 24 hours goal along with a clean bill of health after those two months.
“I didn’t get sick, I didn’t lose any of my hair, and I didn’t get any extra medicine. I was one of the healthiest kids at the house. Parents would look at me and say, ‘What are you doing here?’”
During the following summer, Tjeerdsma joined a team to go to San Francisco and walk a half marathon as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House. Tjeerdsma set a goal of raising $2,400, a dollar amount related to his 24-hour volunteering goal.
“By the time of the race we raised a little over $3,000 for the house, and the entire team raised a little over $110,000 for the house,” said Tjeersma. “This is huge considering that it is $10 a night to stay [at the Ronald McDonald House]. Some parents can’t afford the $10 a night, which at that point they could then say don’t worry about it—focus on your child.”
At the age of 14, during his eighth grade year in school, Tjeersma became a volunteer at Unity Point in Sioux City.
“I was kind of like the modern day candy striper,” said Tjeerdsma.
He volunteered there all throughout high school. By the time he was a senior, Tjeerdsma had reached around 950 hours of volunteer work at the hospital. By freshman year of college, he reached his goal of volunteering 1,000 hours.
Volunteering became a part-time job for Tjeerdsma. The summer before his freshman year of college, a community school in Sioux City, he became the Jr. Volunteer Coordinator at the hospital. After transferring to Dordt College, Tjeersma quickly became known around campus as the guy who holds the door open for everyone.
“I served as a door greeter at church. Then coming [to Dordt] I noticed there was a lot of people going in and pushing the door open, and I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I do that?’”
Adding another source of the reason and inspiration behind his act, Tjeersma said, “To pull a quote from Evan Almighty, ‘ARK: an Act of Random Kindness.’”
Tjeerdsma has lived out that motto many times over, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
“If I was going to give a piece of advice it would be that even though something might seem extremely small or insignificant, like holding a door or doing something nice to a friend or stranger, you don’t know how much of an impact that could have on someone. We might not know their story and they might not know why we did it, but it might make their day a little better.”
Consider what the world might look like if we all had Tjeersma’s mindset.