When GP trainee Bernard Leenstra (32) read the text ‘Can someone kill that doctor Bernard? I’ll probably offer 1000€,” he said calmly at first. ‘I thought: what would they do with a little doctor from Utrecht if they could also get Jaap van Dissel?’, he says. He joked about it with his girlfriend. “When I went shopping, I said: I’ll be right back, at least …”
For a while, Leenstra decided to ignore the threat. He suspected that the perpetrator would be young. A pathetic person. As co-founder of prullenbakvaccin.nl, a site to prevent the wastage of corona vaccines, he would have been given more. He had been called ‘Doctor Mengele’. The ‘white angel of death’. People had suggested that his neck should be turned. That his throat had to be cut.
He had seen it with a shake of his head. But when he noticed how it affected his environment and how other doctors were threatened – a family doctor friend got a bullet through his door because of his activities around corona and his practice was set on fire – he finally decided to report it. ‘I thought: and now I’m done with it.’
Just do it
On Tuesday, the police arrested a suspect in his case: a 21-year-old man from the Hoeksche Waard. Even before he was sure whether the police had actually arrested the man, Leenstra had already told the world that someone would be lifted from his bed that morning. It signifies the trainee GP: don’t think too long, just do it.
He immediately linked it to a plan: actively combating disinformation on social media, via a kind of online variant of the doubt telephone. ‘These vaccine doubters often don’t read the newspapers or look at the RIVM website. The conspiracy theories on social media about corona are a breeding ground for threats. Now let’s just let everyone there have their own way. While you can also stand next to it and answer it.’
In recent years, Leenstra has regularly been in the news with ideas to improve healthcare. For example, he traveled through the neighborhoods of Utrecht in his white doctor’s coat to inform people about the corona vaccine. He previously founded the company Shock & Pomp, a CPR training company, after seeing in the emergency room that many patients would have been better off if they had been resuscitated on the spot.
‘During his studies, Bernard would sometimes suddenly appear early in the morning in his bathrobe in my student room with the announcement: I have a plan,’ says his good friend and business partner Jonas Linders. Together they have founded several companies in recent years – large and small. ‘Every time I see Bernard, he has a new idea. Not all of them are doable, but some of them usually work. He has the gift of continuously looking around and seeing opportunities everywhere to improve situations. Without taking into account sacred houses or conventions.’
‘He really does Shock & Pump out of conviction’, says Linders. ‘He just thinks that everyone in the Netherlands should be able to resuscitate in a few years’ time.’ He tells how they have brought in investors in recent years. “Bernard isn’t concerned with money at all. During the negotiations, he is calmly able to say, “I’m fine with surrendering all my shares.” At those moments I do intervene.’
Leenstra grew up in a family of doctors, his father is a professor of neurosurgery. Yet medicine was not something to be taken for granted. “I was a crappy high school student,” he says. ‘I went to three high schools and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was lazy, unprepared, and mainly wanted to play games and drink cases of beer.’
It was only after a ‘good conversation’ with his father about the medical profession that he became inspired. It also helped that he comes from a left-wing, social nest. ‘I was brought up with the idea that you are there to help society. Always see what you can do for others.’ He says he saved his studies by working hard and never giving up.
He already has a list of plans for the near future ready. He wants to do something about the fight against diabetic feet, ‘one of the most miserable things in existence’, he developed a plan to combat low literacy and developed a pilot to get more hands on the bedside in elderly care.
Because he doesn’t mince words, he is sometimes portrayed on social media as a scumbag, says Linders. ‘But that’s not right at all. He’s just a really sweet boy. When things went a bit less with me a while ago, Bernard was always there for me. A real friend.’
According to his friends, one of the nice things about Leenstra is that he is never afraid to fail. ‘Failures are part of life’, he says about it. ‘I’m not a perfectionist at all. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to get a burnout.’
After his threats became known, he received warm reactions from others. For example, Minister Hugo de Jonge called to encourage him. It strengthened him in the thought that he should not be silent. “We have to show what’s going on. These threats must not become normal.’