Chris Holstege ’88 has a heart for serving vulnerable populations. On any given day, the internationally renowned medical toxicologist might be found in a classroom, an emergency department, a courtroom, or a research lab. No matter his location or task, Holstege approaches each day with characteristic energy and a clear-minded commitment to service. 

Holstege is a Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine and the Chief of its Division of Medical Toxicology, a program that treats patients who have been poisoned. He also teaches and serves as the Executive Director of the University of Virginia’s Department of Student Health & Wellness. His current research focuses on student populations, particularly in the area of substance abuse, and on criminal poisonings. 

Toxicologists use differential diagnosis, a process of piecing together evidence and symptoms to both rule out and determine the toxins involved in a poisoning. Holstege says it’s a bit like piecing a puzzle together. He frequently partners with experts from a variety of fields and credits his liberal arts education at Calvin with preparing him to successfully collaborate at a multidisciplinary level. For example, Holstege serves on UVA’s Critical Incident Analysis Group that brings together experts from the sciences and humanities to study critical incidents, such as major terrorist events, and their impact on governments and societies. The group has studied incidents such as 9-11 and the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. 

Holstege also assists in international poisoning cases. He has worked on high profile events such as the 2001 anthrax release and the 2004 poisoning of Ukranian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. He currently serves as a member of a number of telehealth groups, one of which monitors patients for the release of chemical warfare in the civilian Ukranian population. “I really think Christians have a leading role to care for the vulnerable,” Holstege says. “Bureaucracies need to be held accountable. And we need to make sure justice is brought. Truly, if you really look at what drives me, it’s that.” 

Holstege has also served in criminal prosecutions. He cites a partnership with Calvin faculty and student researchers who helped determine how much cyanide it would take to kill someone by lethal injection. That evidence helped lead to a murder conviction. “Predators are looking for the vulnerable. But I think you would be heartened to see how many people are working together to put them at bay and bring justice.” 

More recently, Holstege’s research has turned to students, helping the University of Virginia define wellness and well-being, and even building a university partnership with Shenandoah National Park to get students out into nature. Holstege remains hopeful that an interdisciplinary approach to wellness will empower students to flourish in these challenging and complex times. 

Holstege carries the torch of a long Calvin legacy. “I’ve been part of the history of this university for a long time. I grew up in the halls as a kid,” he says. His father, Henry Holstege ’54, was a professor of sociology; his mother, Lois Veltkamp Holstege ’54, attended Calvin; and his great-grandfather graduated from Calvin Seminary. Holstege himself studied chemistry and ran and hurdled for the Calvin track and field team. In 2017, he was named a Knight of Distinction. Holstege and his wife, Angela Dykstra Holstege ’90, have six children, five of whom chose to attend Calvin. As a Calvin parent, he appreciates the “fabulous faculty, their tremendous expertise, and an emphasis on service.” 

Medical toxicology is intense work and Holstege admits he’s “seen significant brutality over the years.” It might be easy to grow cynical; but in fact, Holstege remains resilient, hopeful, even. His secret? He holds an unflagging belief in the value of public service. He relishes every opportunity to restore justice or return patients to health. He sees promise in the next generation of students. Though he’s well-established in his profession, you get the sense Chris Holstege has only just begun.