GuestPost – Kelvin Van Baalen – I am lucky to be alive
Motivational speaker – burns survivor
On 29 June 2018, I was paragliding in a competition in Barberton, in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, one of many competitions I had participated in, in the past. This, however, was the one that was going to change my life forever.
I was coming into land, saw a set of power lines at the very last minute, turned my wing too hard, and spun straight into the lines. I felt a power surge through my body and then was knocked unconscious. I awoke to myself engulfed in flames lying on the ground.
I have no idea how long I was on fire because I was unconscious. My incredible will to live kicked in. I rolled around on the grass to put the flames out and climbed a tree to escape the fire, which I had started. This is where help found me, naked, burnt, traumatized, and in shock – clinging to a branch of a tree that I had climbed to escape the fire.
I was airlifted to the Milpark hospital burns unit. My parents say they will never forget the sound of the Helicopter landing at the hospital, knowing I was in it, but not knowing whether I was dead or alive.
My Time In ICU
I was admitted to the Milpark hospital – renowned for its exceptional burns unit – in a critical condition with roughly 65 % full-thickness burns. I had a collapsed lung, failing kidneys, was severely dehydrated, and hanging onto life by a thread. Plastic surgeons were called in immediately as I required extensive debridement before the multiple skin grafts could begin. I battled sepsis, multiple infections, and then pneumonia and was kept in ICU lockdown for months. I was in ICU for 413 days and was resuscitated nine times. I cannot remember much from ICU because I was on so many different meds and was pumped full of dormicum and morphine. I was basically a zombie.
My Time In Rehabilitation
I was eventually transferred to a rehab center, where I spent roughly 70 days. At this point, I couldn’t walk, eat, dress, bathe myself, brush my teeth or go to the toilet on my own. I was utterly dependent on others. Therefore, we didn’t emphasize walking but rather small tasks like being able to transfer from a wheelchair to a bed and go to the toilet. It was challenging – I was exhausted and couldn’t find motivation.
At this point, I just wanted to go home and give up. Some days, I found something inside me that kept me going, and I managed to put in the effort. This motivating force inside me gave me hope that I might have a life worth fighting for one day. When I left, I was able to walk roughly 100 meters with a walking frame. I had learned how to eat by myself, transfer myself on and off the toilet, and button-up a top, things that I used to take for granted.
The Road I Have Come After Rehabilitation
I have since had four more operations. I am now completely independent from my wheelchair. I can cook, go to the toilet, and do basically anything a ‘normal’ person can do, except I struggle to take off slim-fit jeans and my left sock. I have learned how to walk and walk around the house with no assistance; when I go out, I take one crutch. I have even tried driving and am capable of causing an automatic car. I have been gliding and paragliding again and have swung a golf club too.
‘Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.’
I once thought I would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I am happy to say I haven’t used it in the past three months, and we’re moving onwards and upwards 😁💪
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