When we visit him today it’s 22-year-old Kelvin van Baalen’s 388th day in the ICU of the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. He’s still on life support and doctors can’t say when he’ll see the outside world again.
“It’s any parent’s darkest nightmare – and certainly also the most devastating tragedy that can befall any parent,” Leigh van Baalen (47), Kelvin’s mom, tells YOU.
The accident happened on 29 June last year when he was competing on the last day of the Barberton Paragliding Open. He ended up with third- and fourth-degree burns over two-thirds of his body after hitting high-voltage power cables.
It’s believed Kelvin might have panicked when he saw the cables and lost control of his paraglider.
His clothes were burnt off by the electrical current, which caused severe internal injuries too.
In September last year, 11 weeks after the accident, Leigh told YOU: “What gets to me is the uncertainty of what the future holds. I’m a mother. I want my child with me, regardless of what he or the future looks like.”
But back then she didn’t realise how long their ordeal would continue, Leigh says.
“It’s incredibly hard, of course it is,” she explains. “Looking back over the past year, it’s hard to believe you’ve survived it. I have no idea how we did it. We walked the road step by step, each day hopeful that Kelvin would recover.”
Kelvin is still in hospital because his organs aren’t functioning normally. He’s had organ failure, has been on kidney dialysis, and has had to be resuscitated on five occasions when his heart stopped. Leigh says he’s also fighting a persistent infection. He’s had 17 skin grafts, all successful.
Once Kelvin has recovered to the point of being discharged, he still faces a long, difficult rehabilitation process.
“He suffered serious muscle damage, especially to a calf and hip. He struggles to hold a cellphone or book because of his tremors. He’s able to speak and looks better than before. None of this matters – as long as I get to take my son home.”
elvin had been set to complete a BA degree with psychology as major at the University of the Witwatersrand. His girlfriend, Robyn, a homeopathy student, has been extremely supportive, Leigh says.
“It’s really a wonderful romance. They met each other six weeks before the accident. And now, with Kelvin having been in hospital for more than a year, she’s still visiting him every week with me. She’s been by his side every step of the way.”
And although the future is uncertain, Leigh believes wholeheartedly that her son will get to go home – and yes, paraglide again too. But only if he wants to.
“A mother will do anything for her child. I’ll support him in everything. As long as he perseveres, gets better and comes home. That’s all we can hope and pray for.”