March 21, 2018, started like any other day for Kelvin Kairu Nyambura. He woke up early as was his norm and prepared for work. Once ready, he bid his wife and daughters goodbye and left for work. When he approached the gate at his work place, a man appeared from a thicket and poured concentrated sulphuric acid on him and ran away.
“The acid was burning everything it came across from my face to my eyes and even the clothes I had worn. I was in total confusion and decided to run to a nearby tap and wash off the acid. I was literally staring at death in the face, never mind that mine was burning,” he narrates.
The water eased the pain but the damage had already been done; half his face was disfigured. The security guard, not knowing exactly what had happened, helped him remove the shirt he was wearing and offered his. Also, on Kelvin’s instructions, he called Kelvin’s friend who rushed him to the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital (NTRH) for treatment.
By the time he was arriving at the hospital, the acid had done so much damage on his face. He gave strict instructions that he did not want to see anybody.
“They say there is a silver lining in every cloud and in my case, I am glad I didn’t lose my eyesight though I couldn’t see earlier on,” he shares.
Eating and drinking, something he enjoyed prior to the attack, became a nightmare and he would cringe at the very thought of food. He would drink using a straw and his food had to be cut into tiny pieces as he had difficulty opening his mouth.
When he was discharged from hospital, he went home with a leso covering his face. “My wife, Christine, was shocked to see my face and I could hear her gasp in disbelief,” he says.
Once at home, he was required to make endless visits to the hospital in order to monitor his progress. He is forever grateful to his friend Joyce Njeri who held his hand throughout this period. Although his skin was taking long to heal, his eyesight was slowly returning and this was the light at the end of the tunnel he so much needed.
His relatives, concerned at the rate at which his skin was healing, made arrangements for him to seek further medical attention in Nairobi. Kelvin, however, did not want to trouble his family and he thus fled to Nyeri.
“I booked a room and ordered lots of alcohol. I wanted to run away from my misfortune not realising that this was now a part and parcel of me. When I woke up the following morning, I was a bit sober so I called a good friend of mine who also happened to be a doctor. I told him of my woes and he urged me to meet him at Kiambu Hospital,” he narrates.
His doctor friend turned out to be the proverbial ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’. At the hospital, it was found out that the wounds had become septic and had pus. This was hindering the healing process. Luckily for Kelvin, the sepsis and pus were realised in good time and thus any further damages were mitigated. He was also assigned an orthopedic doctor to ensure his mobility was maintained.
One surgery after the other…
He was thereafter referred to Kenyatta National Hospital to undergo plastic surgery. This involved going for tests, which culminated in the first skin grafting surgery. Here, skin was removed from his right leg and transplanted on his neck where the burns were extreme. He was advised to use a neck brace to avoid movement of the neck that would have caused further damage.
The second surgery – contracture release – a surgery to close up a wound which was overexposed, was done. This backfired as after a few weeks, the skin peeled off.
“This prompted another surgery in April 2019, which was very painful. The surgery, referred to as flap surgery, involved lifting a tissue from my shoulder and adding to the neck. It was complicated as a tracheostomy (a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck in order to place a tube into one’s windpipe) was suggested because without it, anaesthesia could not be administered,” he explains.
Powerless and at the mercy of the doctors, Kelvin left all the decision making to the plastic surgeon who did not disappoint him. The surgery was a success and he embarked on a journey to recovery, a road he had previously trodden.
While on the outside he appeared to be recovering well, he was breaking inside, granted he never underwent any counselling to help him recover psychologically. He had this constant fear that the attacker might show up again and finish him off. Friends also departed him and it didn’t help that his daughters didn’t want to get close to him as they were scared.
“I would spend the night watching TV as I was afraid of closing my eyes lest the attacker shows up. I also feared darkness and thus lights were always on in our home,” he narrates.
Alone with his thoughts, he saw no reason to live. One day, he waited for his wife to step out and took 30 Piriton capsules. A neighbour’s kid, who had passed by to say hi, found him lying on the floor unconscious. He alerted his parents who rushed him to hospital where he was attended to.
Determined to die, Kelvin borrowed from a friend Ksh1,000 a few weeks later and travelled to Thika. Armed with a poisonous concoction made from drugs, he booked a room and locked himself up. Before drinking the concoction, Kelvin went live on his Facebook page and announced to his friends and followers that he was about to take his life. He went ahead and drunk the mixture before going off air.
“I knew no one knew where I was and so chances of being rescued were close to nil. I laid on the bed and waited for the angel of death to come and take me away from this troubled life. While I thought I would die, I was woken up in the morning by the noise coming from the street below. I momentarily thought I was in hell. The poison didn’t work,” he says.
Pissed off, he went out in search of a more potent poison. Unbeknown to him, his Facebook video had gone viral and the hotel’s supervisor immediately recognised him. She calmly asked him to follow him to the hotel manager’s office who beseeched him to call one of his friends.
“My friend came and that’s how my mission was aborted,” he narrates.
Treating mental illness…
It was now clear that Kelvin was suffering from depression and he needed urgent medical attention. Against his wishes, Kelvin was booked at Mathari Hospital.
“I was still in denial but after spending two weeks at the mental facility, I began feeling better. Counselling helped change my perspective of life and set me on a path to recovery,” he explains, adding that he no longer harbours suicidal thoughts even though problems still afflict him.
Now fully recovered both physically and mentally, Kelvin sells firewood.
“It has been tough getting a job and I think the scars on my face have played a big role in it. However, after highlighting my story online, a Good Samaritan came along and helped me establish the business, which has enabled me take care of my family,” he says.
Speaking of online, speculations on whoever poured acid on him are rife with each blogger seeking to make the story juicier. Some claim that his wife poured acid on him while others claim he defiled a minor and hence the acid attack.
“I don’t know who carried out this heinous act and for what reason. Like many people who know my story, I also want to know whoever did this to me although I have forgiven him,” he says, adding that he reads the stories online and it pains him that people are judging him yet they don’t have the facts.
However, he is grateful that he has received support and encouragement from all quarters. His kids – Nelly and Natasha – have also adjusted to his current circumstances and spending time with them warms his heart.