Father who drowned saving son with Down syndrome remembered by his family

In a video memorializing the memory of Thomas Vander Woude, his family recalls his heroic sacrifice for his son Joseph. Vander Woude was the father of seven sons. Five years ago, he died on his family farm after rescuing his drowning son, who has Down syndrome, from a septic tank into which he had fallen. Loved ones say that he died as he had lived: next to his son, and for his son. Thomas left behind a loving family, and last month Focus on the Family shared a video featuring his wife and sons remembering their father and his legacy of love.

In the video, Thomas’s son Daniel shares a story of his father’s love for Joseph – a love that was oblivious to human opinion or scrutiny, and simply focused on the good of his child:

Downs kids are delayed, so in order for their brain to develop properly, they have to go back and relive certain things that we just go through naturally for a quick period of time. Like normally, in your childhood development, the stage where you’re crawling – that helps your brain develop. So dad made these really long socks for his arms, and he and Joseph would crawl around. Here’s my dad, and he’s raised all these kids, and he’s crawling around outside on the ground. He’s crawling around on the floor everywhere with my brother Joseph. So he just taught us an incredible example about, it doesn’t matter what people think, it’s all about just giving of yourself.

Thomas’s wife recalled his selfless sacrifice in terms of the similarity he shares with the sacrifice of Christ:

He did mirror what Christ did for us on the cross. Christ died for us so that we, too, will be able to be in heaven someday.

His son Thomas is a priest. Fr. Thomas was called to the emergency room to anoint his dying father before he realized that the patient was actually his own dad. Fr. Thomas has carried on his father’s pro-life legacy, and just last summer, he was instrumental in saving the life of a baby who had received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Given only one day to find an adoptive family – or else the biological parents would abort the baby – Father found three.

Thomas Vander Woude has gone on from this life, but his spirit is thriving in the lives of all those he touched.

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