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Convenor: Udo Jonas

This ancient city with its long tradition of education and culture was a particularly fitting venue for the ICS visit. Leiden was the home of the urodynamic laboratory and urological department established by Prof Pieter Donker.

Social programme:There was a memorable Dutch evening held in an ancient church. There were those who swear they could hear ancient bones turning in the vaults beneath their feet, but perhaps that was the effect of the liquid refreshment rather than a reaction to the splendid musical entertainment. More was to follow with ‘Darling’ Bo (Coolsaet) and David ‘Darling’ (Rowan) showing hitherto concealed cabaret talent at the Gala Dinner.

Pieter Donker (1914-1999) Pieter Donker was Professor of Urology in Rotterdam and then in Leiden from 1965 until his retirement in 1979. In an obituary written by Udo Jonas in his honor it is noted that he had served in the Dutch Royal Marines as a Medical Officer and worked as a surgeon in Jakarta. He was awarded a knighthood of Oranje-Nassau.

His contributions to urology were honored by his being made an honorary member of the ICS in 1982, as well as having previously received honorary membership into the Dutch Urological Society and the American Urological Association. He held honorary professorships in Antwerp and several Indonesian Universities. He was the President of the Société Internationale d’Urologie in 1973.

Norm Zinner wrote:
“Pieter had a way of recognizing the good qualities in people and in helping them. In 1971 we met in Aachen, Germany, at an international urodynamics meeting arranged by Professor Wolf Lutzeyer. Pieter was keen to bring urodynamics to Leiden and shortly afterwards offered me the Boerhaave Professorship for the following year. I told him that that while I may have been a good spokesman for the urodynamics work my team had produced, I was a urologist, not a mathematician, physicist, or engineer, and much of the material I presented was the result of work by others who were part of a team I created at the University of Washington. If I were to help develop a urodynamics program in Leiden, some of these associates would be needed. As a result, Pieter extended an invitation to Leiden for Art Sterling, a PhD Chemical Engineer (who went on to remain in Leiden for three years), Rog Ritter, a professor of physics who came for periodic visits, one of which was for three months, and a string of other professors of physics, mathematics, and engineering who each spent from weeks to months adding to this Urodynamic program. During this period, Pieter supported the development of a weekly three hour evening series of lectures and demonstrations given by these “guests” of his that were regularly attended by urologists from all over the Netherlands, Western Germany, and Northern Belgium. In doing this much of what was then modern urodynamics physical principles was introduced to this part of Europe.

“It was Pieter’s foresight to invite someone from outside The Netherlands to be in residence and start a urodynamics program in Leiden based on physical principles as they applied to the urinary tract.” Pieter’s interests were quite broad: one of them concerned the innervation of the bladder and pelvis. By a coincidence Pieter met Prof Patrick Walsh, Professor of Urology at Johns Hopkins University at a meeting in the United States in 1977 and as a result, the following year, Pat invited one of Pieter’s residents, Jaab Zwartendijk to serve a one-year fellowship at Hopkins. Then, 4 years after their first meeting a remarkable chain of events occurred while Walsh was a visiting professor in Leiden. (Walsh PC 2007).

In this manuscript, Pat Walsh wrote: “On February 13, 1981, my 43rd birthday, (at a meeting in Leiden, the Netherlands) my host Professor Udo Jonas offered a tour of Leiden, and because of my friendship with Pieter Donker he asked Pieter to be my guide. Had it not been for that dinner 4 years earlier we would have never met and this opportunity would have been missed. Pieter offered to show me the windmill museums, the canals and other local sights. However, I was interested in what he was doing now that he had retired, and when he told me that he was working in the anatomy laboratory I said that I would like to see what he was doing, without any idea of the connection between his work and my interest. In the basement of the anatomy building Pieter took out an infant cadaver, a dissecting microscope and his drawings. When I asked why he was dissecting out the nerves to the bladder, he stated that this had never been done successfully before, and when I asked why he was using the infant cadaver, he said that this was the best model, avoiding the (sic) complications with the use of adult cadavers. In studying his drawings I asked about the location of the branches to the corpora cavernosa. He stated that he had never looked. Three hours later both of us could see that the cavernous nerves were located outside the capsule and fascia of the prostate.” This shows “how important discoveries can have humble beginnings.”

“During the next year” Pat Walsh continues, “Pieter continued to perform dissections and I once again used the operating room as an anatomy laboratory. Based upon the findings in the infant cadaver we had a schematic diagram of where the nerves were located, but no landmarks to identify their location in the adult male pelvis. In the operating room I noticed that there was a cluster of vessels, the capsular arteries and veins of the prostate that travelled in this exact location. In March, 1982 I met with Pieter to review our results, and he agreed with my suggestion that these vessels provided the scaffolding for the nerves and that the neurovascular bundle could be used as the macroscopic landmark to identify them during surgery”

Norman Zinner wrote: “By making these different experiences with others mean so much, by his ability to grow and learn from chance encounters, by being able to stimulate those around him, and by being able to influence the world of science and medicine in so many ways, Pieter Donker has played an important role in the development and growth of the International Continence Society and was elected as one of the relatively few Honorary Members of The ICS. He was a remarkable man. He had only one lung. He had had TB years earlier and this limited his endurance but he worked tirelessly nonetheless.”

Norman further writes: “I would like to tell one on Pieter that I know he would like. As an American I was used to informality. Those of us who worked together were all on a first name basis. This was not the case in The Netherlands. When first arriving in to Leiden I asked his secretary to tell me Professor Donker’s name and what did others call him. His secretary seemed astonished and said that she didn’t know. ‘No one calls him by his first name. He is a professor’, I responded by saying, ‘I am a professor too so please tell me his first name’. She said his name is Pieter and I called him Pieter. He immediately took to that and during the course of this year in Leiden, everyone within his department became on a first name basis. This is, in a way, a tribute to Pieter’s open-mindedness and capacity for change”

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