Longtime missionary Brian Kelso will return to Haiti in
January, this time like thousands of people who survived a 7.0 tremor there —
as an amputee.
The Weston pastor spent months this year in Haiti doing
earthquake relief, and it nearly cost him his life. After two months in the
hospital, 40 hours in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, Kelso lost half his right
foot and the toes on his left.
His right foot is now a size 4.
“A mosquito and I had a rendezvous,” he explains.
The Presbyterian missionary who dedicated the last
decade, and a bulk of 2010, to charity work in Haiti contracted malaria. His
body slid into sepsis. His organs shut down; his ears, knees and feet turned
But this isn’t a guy who gives up. The Christ the
Covenant Church pastor will go back to Haiti for the Jan. 19 ground-breaking of
a new orphanage for a village ripped by despair.
“The little bit that I went through truly can’t compare
to the suffering people in Haiti go through every day,” Mr. Kelso said. “Are
you kidding me? They don’t have water, opportunities, food, medical care. I was
on my deathbed, but look at the medical care available to me.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.”
Mr. Kelso is an Indiana native who moved to South Florida
with his wife 22 years ago. He founded the Great Commission Alliance a decade
ago with the goal of equipping leaders, educating children, and escorting teams
of missionaries to the poverty-stricken country.
Its work is focused in Mirebalais, some 35 miles north of
Port-au-Prince, where the population nearly doubled after the quake.
“I called him and said, ‘Things are really bad here, I
don’t think you should come,’” said Marcel Baptiste, pastor of the New Hope
Haitian Church in Homestead and Mr. Kelso’s partner in Haiti. “Nobody could
stop him. We went village to village with water, clothes and medicine. He would
meet a guy with no leg and start to cry.” Mr. Kelso is the first to tell you:
He cries a lot. He cries meeting the orphans. He chokes up during his sermons.
His eyes well up as he tells the story about his climb from the “valley of the
shadow of death.”
It starts with the 12 January earthquake, which killed
300,000 people and left 1.5 million on the street. For weeks afterward, Mr.
Kelso had an exhausting routine: Tuesday morning flight from Fort Lauderdale to
Santo Domingo, then a gruelling 10-hour drive to the Haitian village where he
and other missionaries doled out food and tents to homeless quake victims.
Mr. Kelso would be back in Weston to preach by Sunday.
Close to death
In May, the 52-year-old missionary began feeling
fatigued. In August, an excruciating headache. For the first time in 30 years,
he asked another pastor to stand in for him at the pulpit.
With a 103-degree fever, Mr. Kelso checked himself into
Memorial Hospital Miramar, and doesn’t remember anything since. “He was
knocking on heaven’s door,” said Dr. Blane Shatkin, medical director of Memorial
Hospital Pembroke’s Wound Treatment Center.
Doctors thought he had dengue but then determined he had
20 per cent malaria in his blood.
Malaria is caused by a parasite, which is transmitted by
bites from infected mosquitoes. The parasites multiply in the liver and infect
red blood cells.
At least 30,000 cases of malaria are confirmed each year
in Haiti, but the true rate is believed to be much higher. In the six weeks
after the January earthquake, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
said 11 aid workers contracted malaria in Haiti, including six members of the
It’s often fatal.
With Kelso’s organs failing and malaria blood count
“incompatible with life,” doctors took a desperate action: They gave him a
medicine the pastor later learned is sometimes dubbed “leave ‘em dead.” Similar
to adrenaline, the medicine constricts blood vessels and increases blood
pressure and sugar levels. It makes the blood work overtime to keep the heart
and brain alive.
“There were times I thought, ‘I’m going to lose him. It’s
so unfair. He’s doing good work,’” said Barbara, Kelso’s wife of 32 years.
“This is the man I want to get old and retire with and travel with, and that’s
all over — because he’s been going to Haiti?’ I’d get upset and come back to
reality and realize: That’s God’s plan.”