More than a year after a tragic paragliding accident, a Wits student remains in hospital.

A Wits University student has spent over 400 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a local hospital since a paragliding accident in Mpumalanga on June 29, 2018.

Kelvin van Baalen, a BA general degree student, sustained 70 percent burns to his body and to date he has had 30 skin grafts at Milpark Hospital, according to his mother, Leigh van Baalen. Kelvin was participating in the Barberton Paragliding Open when his wing touched a high voltage powerline during his landing. The incident caused a fire to the paraglider which quickly engulfed Kelvin, 22.

“[After an injury like this] your body physically doesn’t look the same and it’s never going to. You’re going to have to use your body in a new way. We’re training him how to breathe differently … The whole thing has just been devastating”, Leigh told Wits Vuvuzela.

Kelvin’s girlfriend, Robyn Anderson, a homeopathy student at UJ, told Wits Vuvuzela, although her boyfriend has encountered a list of complications due to his extensive 3rd and 4th degree burns, he “is doing relatively well. He is making good progress with his physiotherapists, he is off the ventilator and is eating again.” Anderson explained that while he was on the ventilator, Kelvin was unable to talk.

“Unfortunately, the biggest problem that Kelvin has faced has been the numerous infections he has acquired – a problem that is almost always seen in burn victims,” Anderson said.

When Kelvin leaves ICU, he will be moved to a rehabilitation facility where physiotherapists will continue to work with him to the point where he can function independently again. 

Professor Adelin Muganza, head of the burn unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital said, there is a chance Kelvin will walk again if he goes into proper rehabilitation. Muganza also said that a major part of the rehabilitation process involves psychological rehabilitation, as many patients in this condition become depressed and even suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kelvin would have graduated at the end of last year if the accident had not happened but he will have to learn how to do daily tasks again, from learning how to walk, to buttoning a shirt and holding a spoon. According to Leigh, Kelvin had wanted to complete a law degree but will have to focus on his recovery which is expected to take years.

FEATURED IMAGE: Kelvin van Baalen, a Wits student who has been in ICU since June 2018, with his girlfriend, Robyn Anderson.   Photo: Provided