Have You Met?

Those who know Dr. Gary VanderArk won’t be surprised to hear this. When I walked into his office, I could hear him on the phone saying to the person on the line: “We just have to find a way to help this guy!” Everything I’d heard about Dr. Gary VanderArk suddenly clicked. His number one priority in life really is to serve mankind.

Dr. VanderArk is a giant of a man, and we couldn’t possibly recognize all of his achievements in just one article, so let’s highlight several examples of his accomplishments. Dr. VanderArk’s vision, creativity, and leadership have lead to the creation of these remarkable organizations:

Doctor’s Care: Dr. VanderArk convinced hundreds of busy physicians and several hospitals to participate in giving care to residents in and around the Denver area that couldn’t otherwise afford it. This program serves well over 1,500 people per year and has contributed more than $30 million in free medical care services.

Colorado Neurological Institute (CNI): Dr. VanderArk’s commitment to creating a premier regional, nonprofit, neuroscience center in Colorado led to the founding of CNI in 1988. Dr. VanderArk and a group of doctors at Swedish Medical Center decided that the hospital should form a Neuroscience Center of Excellence. “The idea was for it to be physician-driven rather than hospital driven.” Dr. VanderArk says, “The CNI members remain the pillars of the organization today; building outcomes-driven, multi-disciplinary programs based on research, education and patient care.” As Dr. VanderArk remarks, “It all comes back to service. For years I’ve been talking to people about CNI’s mission which is to serve patients with neurological disease. It’s so simple, and that’s how CNI will always be successful. If people know you exist to serve them, you can’t lose.”

Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved: When care was limited to some residents in the Denver area because they didn’t have health insurance or resources, Dr. VanderArk made it his mission to work tirelessly with the medical community to find creative solutions. In 1997 the CCMU was founded. Since that time, Dr. VanderArk has cultivated relationships and initiated a process by which a coalition of over 250 individuals and organization have united to devise a 10 years plan to ensure that by around 2007, all Coloradoans have access to affordable, quality medical care. Dr. VanderArk says he is spending a lot of his time working with CCMU these days.

You can also add to this list, when CU Medical School needed someone to step in and save their troubled “Residency in Neurosurgery program,” Dr. VanderArk was the chosen one, and the only one, who had that special blend of expertise and talent to step up to the challenge. Since taking over as the Director, the residency program has flourished, and the program was re-accredited for a maximum length of time.

Together, Gary and his wonderful wife, Phyllis, also give of their time and money to numerous charitable organizations in the arts, medicine, education, and service arenas.

Dr. VanderArk has dedicated his life to bringing people together to share their resources and to come up with solutions to improve the healthcare system and the well being of all people in the community. He is a powerful leader and a remarkable human being.

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a doctor? I told my 3rd grade teacher I wanted to be a brain surgeon.

What is a favorite childhood memory? Reading. When I went up to my grandparents’ farm every summer to work, everybody in the farming community recognized me as the boy who would rather read than work.

What fundraising efforts are you involved in at this time? Denver Seminary, Calvin Seminary, Doctor’s Care, Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, and the Center for Bioethics and Humanities.

What social or charitable events are your favorites? Colorado Neurological Institute, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the Collector’s Choice.

What is your favorite magazine? Newsweek.

What is your favorite television show? ER and Basketball/Baseball games.

What is your favorite restaurant: Swing Thai.

What do you most value in your friends? They listen to my jokes.

What is one thing no one knows about you? I was a drum major.

What do you like most about yourself? You can count on me.

What do you like least about yourself? My pride/ego.

What is a moment in your life you will never forget? Opening day of the Rockies ’92 and summiting Mt. Ranier ’95.

What makes you sad? People without care.

What do you consider your proudest achievement? My children.

What disappoints you? What people will do for money.

What concerns you most about the medical field today? Greed.

What frustrates you? Bad drivers.

Who is your mentor? Dr. Edgar A. Kahn who was the neurosurgical inspiration for the character of Dr. Bobby Merrick in the classic book Magnificent Obsession, by Lloyd C. Douglas. Dr. Kahn was my hero and he made me a neurosurgeon. It has always been my goal to emulate Dr. Kahn in my practice of neurosurgery. He certainly passed on his “magnificent obsession” to all of his residents. We were amazed at his ability to give of himself to his patients. Even when Dr. Kahn reached retirement age, he lost none of his passion for his patients. Dr. Kahn spent his entire career at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan and always worked for $1 per year. He was all about service. Dr. Kahn’s father was the famous architect, Albert Kahn.

Who is your hero? John Perkins of Jackson, Mississippi. He’s 75 years old, and the creator of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, the Voice of Calvary, Mendenhall Ministries; and he’s the father of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in the U.S. He’s a great leader and knows how to do community development work well. He moved to Pasadena, California and picked a house in the middle of the largest drug-dealing neighborhood in all of Southern California. He selected a 16-block target area to be their neighborhood and totally transformed that neighborhood. There, he provided for all the school kids, and the preschoolers. He created programs for the people - and their relatives - who were in jail, established a program for people to obtain their GED’s, and a program to find jobs for those who needed work. They do holistic community development, and CCDA now has more than 700 members working for the organization in the U.S. Last year at our annual meeting, we had 5,000 people there. This is a big deal. He’s my best friend, my hero, and also one of my mentors. He’s been an advisor to three U.S. Presidents. He’s totally wonderful!

Who are your favorite writers? Henri Nouwen, Phillip Yancy (who lives up in Evergreen), and C.S. Lewis.

What is your advice for a happy marriage? Communicate – my wife has been telling me this for 47 years. Phyllis’ grandfather and my grandfather came over on the same boat from Holland in 1892. From Holland - to Holland, Michigan.

If there were one thing you would change about yourself, what would it be? I’d like to have hair.

If your life were a movie, what actor would best play you? John Wayne.

What are your hobbies or other interests? Preaching.

What activities help you to “decompress?” I used to run; now I work out on the Stairmaster every day for an hour while I’m watching TV – It’s just about the only TV I watch these days. I also have at least 5 books I’m reading at one time.

What would you do if you were King of the world? Make sure everyone had healthcare.

What is your most treasured possession? My wedding ring.

What is your greatest extravagance? My BMW M3 Convertible.

What is your personal motto – or favorite quote? “Only one life, T’will soon be passed, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

What is the best advice your Mom/Dad ever gave you? Stand up straight.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My wife, Phyllis.

If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would it be? Not argue with my wife.

What is your current state of mind? Positive.

What is something you would still like to learn to do? Speak Spanish.

What would you like future generations to remember you for? My service to mankind.

What might your epitaph read? “He Served Others.”

What is nearest and dearest to you heart? God, Family, and my Profession.