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Joost Bierens, MD, PhD
Joost Bierens, MD, PhD
International Facilitator, Researcher & Author
2013 Paragon Award / Aquatic Safety

Professor Joost Bierens of the Netherlands has been involved in aquatic safety as a lifeguard, key member of major organizations, author, researcher, academic professor, congress chairman and international facilitator. His name is linked with some of the contemporary greatest achievements in the history of world lifesaving.

His first experience with water safety was working as a beach lifeguard during medical school vacations, from 1974 to 1980, when he became interested in drowning, other aquatic emergencies and water safety. It was during this time that he finished his first epidemiological study: “Drowning Along the Dutch Beaches”. He continued drowning related research while he was a resident in anaesthesiology from 1984 to 1989 in emergency medicine. In 1996, he completed his PhD thesis: “Drowning in the Netherlands, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology and Clinical Studies”. Inspired by the observation that very little had improved since his lifeguard period, he coordinated, on behalf of the Maatschappij tot Redding van Drenkelingen (Society to Rescue People from Drowning, established in 1767), the multi-disciplinary, international and interactive World Congress on Drowning from 1996 to 2002. 174 co-authors contributed to the first version of the “Handbook on Drowning”. He was the coordinating editor of the standard work on drowning, “The Handbook on Drowning, Prevention, Rescue and Treatment” (2006), in which he brought over 179 contributors from over 40 countries. This was the single, most important written initiative on this topic and is considered to be the “Bible” of water safety. In 2008, he contributed to the second most comprehensive book, the “Handbook on Water Safety and Lifesaving”, with 144 contributors from 22 countries. He has published over 130 scientific peer-reviewed articles and chapters on lifeguarding, drowning, hypothermia and water safety.

Joost is also a regular national and international keynote speaker and teacher on water safety related subjects, from a practical rescue level to the clinical intensive care level. Since the origin of the idea to obtain a global focus on the issue of drowning in 1996, he orchestrated, as Project Coordinator and Co-Chairman, the World Drowning Congress in 2002 - Amsterdam. This was the most comprehensive and organized initiative in the history of water safety which brought together over 450 experts from 40 countries. Unlike other initiatives up to that point, this Congress was open to everyone interested in sharing ideas and research without limiting its audience to specific membership. A few years later, at the World Water Safety Congress in Portugal- 2007 and the World Drowning Congress on Drowning Prevention in 2011 - Vietnam, Joost served in a more inspirational role and presented numerous water safety studies. Joost was again one of the key people in the World Water Safety Congress in 2007 - Portugal and in the World Congress on Drowning Prevention in 2011 - Vietnam, where he presented numerous water safety studies. Speaking fluent English, Dutch and Spanish, he has the talent to motivate and engage the interest of his audience, who almost hold their breath during his lectures, both because of his knowledge and because of his marvellous sense of humor.

Not mentioned prior is Joost’s professional involvement in emergency and disaster medicine. He was appointed “First Professor in Emergency Medicine” in the Netherlands at the Department of Anaesthesiology of the VU University Medical Center until his term ended in 2009. During this time, he published research articles and books on a variety of issues in the domains of emergency and disaster medicine.

Joost has not only worked for several decades in the fields of drowning prevention, rescue and treatment, but he also remains a brilliant example of modesty. As a husband and father who manages to find time between family, work and voluntarism in the field of international lifesaving, he serves as inspiration for young researchers and lifesavers around the world.


Greg Louganis
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