When his son fell eight feet into a septic tank while working on their family farm in Virginia, Thomas S. Vander Woude didn't think twice about trying to save him. A former Vietnam fighter pilot and retired commercial airline pilot, Vander Woude jumped in the septic tank after his son Joseph, pushing from below to save his life. In the process, Vander Woude himself died, giving his life for his son on Sept. 8, 2008. Joseph, who has Down syndrome, was rushed to the hospital, where he recovered from a coma and pneumonia. He is the youngest of seven Vander Woude sons. Seven years later, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA announced this month that it would launch the Thomas S. Vander Woude Memorial Fund for Down Syndrome Research. After receiving initial funds from the national charity Angels in Disguise, the foundation is honoring Vander Woude's ultimate sacrifice by creating the special research fund with the hopes of improving the lives of those living with the condition. The Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA was founded in 2011 and named after the doctor who in 1958 discovered that Down syndrome was caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. The contributions of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, known as the “Father of Modern Genetics,” helped reinforce the dignity of each human life, including those with any genetic condition, the foundation stated. It recalled Dr. Lejeune often saying that “we must love the patient and hate the disease.” Today, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation in the USA aims to provide research, care, and advocacy for people with genetic intellectual disabilities. On par with their mission, the foundation is hopeful that Vander Woude's story will inspire people throughout the world to learn more about the value of life - especially those living with Down syndrome. Mark Bradford, president of the foundation, said that Vander Woude's story of fatherly and heroic sacrifice demonstrates how deep a parent's love can be for a child with a disability — an example to many parents, especially those tempted to abort a child who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. “There is no better place to memorialize the heroic sacrifice of Thomas Vander Woude than in this special fund,” Blackford stated. “He was a remarkable man and his sacrifice has now provided a foundation upon which much good will be done to improve the lives of those living with Down syndrome.”
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.