Intended for healthcare professionals


Charles van der Horst: physician, clinical researcher, political activist, and accomplished swimmer

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 22 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4795
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}
Photo credit: David Wohl

An emeritus professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a global health consultant, Charles van der Horst was born in Hilversum, Netherlands. His parents were Sonja Eichenbaum, a Holocaust survivor, and Johannes Martines Arnold van der Horst. Academic and athletic, van der Horst shone at high school, where he developed an interest in activism as well as science. In his spare time, he worked for the Vietnam anti-war movement.

Explaining the roots of his political activism, van der Horst said: “My parents arrived in the United States in 1952, just after I was born. That was the McCarthy era and Jim Crow laws (which enforced racial segregation in the southern states), and they were horrified. When I was in middle school, my father took me to march for the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Van der Horst married fellow medical student Laura Svetkey, now a professor at Duke University, and they had two daughters, Anna and Sarah. He was a devoted, fun loving husband, father, and brother.

Marathon swimmer

A passionate athlete, as well as physician, van der Horst loved to challenge himself and ran many marathons as well as competing in open air swims. He marked turning 60 by competing in 35 events in that year alone. He went missing at …

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