Neurosurgeon leaked medical information on Dutch prince

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To prevent the spread of unfounded rumours - that is why neurosurgeon Kees Tullekens encouraged his wife to publish information on the condition of Prince Johan Friso.

Tulleken’ wife, journalist Janneke Koelewijn, published the information in national daily NRC Handelsblad. RNW correspondent Derk Marseille met with the neurosurgeon for an interview:

The big news is that there is no news. Prince Johan Friso has been fighting for his life since a quarter past twelve on Friday afternoon. An avalanche in an area outside the official pistes buried the prince under a layer of about 40 centimetres of snow for 15 to 20 minutes.

The prince was resuscitated before being flown to the Innsbruck University Hospital. Since then, the only official statements have been issued by the government information service.

His condition has not changed since the accident, or so the statements say: “Stable, but still in a critical condition.”


In Lech, where the accident took place, people are notably matter-of-fact in their reactions to the accident. “It really was his own responsibility, don’t you think?" says a skier while helping his daughter get into his car. Of course, he hopes Johan Friso will survive, but all he has to add is: “I double-checked the avalanche safety devices in my daughter’s coat. That’s all.”

Dark glasses

Queen Beatrix and Johan Friso’s wife Mabel came to visit him in the Innsbruck hospital on Saturday afternoon. Wearing dark glasses and black coats, they entered Building 8 with their arms linked. Building 8 is the surgery ward. It also features a helipad specifically built to receive trauma helicopters carrying patients from the surrounding ski resorts.

Neurosurgeon Kees Tulleken says: “they were informed about the results of the brain scan made 24 hours after the accident. This a very important test, because if there is no visible damage, there is a much reduced change of permanent damage." Even though there are substantial differences between individual patients, it is still positive news.

No fracture

Tulleken is married to experienced NRC journalist Jannetje Koelewijn, who happened to accompany her husband on a congress for the further education of young neurosurgeons. This is how she happened to overhear a conversation with Johan Friso’s attending physician who had no objection to her publishing a report.

Tulleken even encouraged her to publish because Austrian media have been writing that the prince may have fractured his skull, which, in combination with a lack of oxygen, would make his prospects look very bleak indeed. However, as there is no fracture, the attending physician and Tulleken felt they would be doing the family a favour by preventing the spread of unfounded rumours.

It was intended to provide public opinion with information that would offer some relief. “To take the pressure off,” Mr Tulleken said in an exclusive interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Business News Radio.

Professional confidentiality

Koelewijn’s report came as a bombshell when NRC Handelsblad published it on the front page of its Saturday edition. All of a sudden, a detailed description of Johan Friso’s clinical picture was out in the open.

However, many people wondered if a physician shouldn't have let professional confidentiality prevail. Just like a growing group of people on social media who believe the news about Johan Friso is becoming too much of a hype.

And yet it seems like there is only one kind of statement that could really take the pressure off, and that is news from the Innsbruck hospital on Johan Friso’s condition. So far, however, there has been none.