Friends Want to Help Stricken Activist Kemit-Amon Lewis

Kemit-Amon Lewis with coral in 2013, before an attack from an unknown bacteria that sent him to the hospital. (Source File photo by Carol Buchanan)

Kemit-Amon Lewis has always been known as a person who makes things happen.

The project he may be most known for is the restoration of coral reefs. It started with him planting coral off Cane Bay beach on St. Croix and blossomed into a world-wide effort.

He also pushed forward on turtle conservation and he developed the Reef Responsible program educating chefs, fishermen, and the community in best practices for fishing and sustaining the ocean environment. In the arts he was responsible for stunning choreography at the Caribbean Dance Company and he enjoyed photography.

Now he has been struck with a rare bacterial infection that has changed his life drastically and keeps him fighting for survival. His friends want to help him.

According to those around him, this is what happened to Kemit. At the end of July he was suffering from a groin pain which he thought was maybe a pulled muscle from dance class or tennis. He was an avid tennis player, active in the tennis community on St. Croix and represented the Virgin Islands in the 2009 Davis Cup.

Profile: Kemit-Amon Lewis Bringing Coral Back

But after a week, on July 26, the pain got much worse and he texted his friend and half-sister Karisma Elien. When she arrived to check on him, he collapsed. She rushed him to the nearest urgent care center and from there to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, where they worked on him for eight hours. He suffered septic shock, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when sepsis leads to life-threatening low blood pressure and abnormalities in cellular metabolism.

Tasnim Khan, chief medical officer at Plessen Healthcare, was on duty at the hospital at the time and noted that Kemit needed more care than could be provided on St. Croix. Khan is a specialist in kidney problems. It appeared Kemit would need continued dialysis, which was not available at the hospital.

Initially, three hospitals refused to accept him due to the severity of his condition. He was finally accepted at the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. His friends were told his condition was so critical he could die in flight.

“With his organs failing, neither the source nor type of bacteria decimating his body could be identified, Elien said. “We are thankful for the care the St. Croix hospital team provided. They did the best they could with the resources available to treat Kemit.”

He remained in an induced coma for almost two weeks before finally being deemed stable enough to be awakened. As a side effect of his treatment and illness, gangrene progressed to his arms and legs and amputation was the only course of action. He has lost both feet and both hands. Still, he is not out of the woods completely as his liver, kidneys, gallbladder and spleen have all been compromised.

This is where Elien and another good friend, Nadia Bougouneau, enter the picture.

Bougouneau said some of the medical procedures Kemit has been through have costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Expenses won’t stop there, she said, as Kemit “has to learn a new way of life.”

Elien and Bougouneau are raising funds in the hope that it will enable Kemit and his family – his brother, mother and father are now with him in Fort Lauderdale – to be able to enjoy life again.

Bougouneau told the Source Wednesday that Kemit’s positive spirit still sometimes shines through as he tries to make those around him laugh, but he also realizes that he has lost the tools he used to make his life what it was before. They want to provide financial support to alleviate the stress in the coming months due to ongoing medical costs and rehabilitation both physically and mentally.

People can contribute to Kemit’s recovery by making donation checks payable to Kemit-Amon Lewis, c/o Bank of St. Croix. Checks can be dropped off at the Bank’s Gallows Bay or Peter’s Rest Branch. Payments also will be accepted through Ay Ay Live, Inc. a 501(c)(3) designated, non-profit organization.

Donations also can be made via PayPal to: or through the link on the group’s Facebook page.

Anyone who wants more information or to help can send email to karismamelien@gmail.

Bougouneau said the effort she and Elien started at the end of August is more than a fundraising effort, it is “a way for those concerned about Kemit to connect.”

Elien says it is not known what bacteria caused Kemit’s illness and it may never be known. She added that a doctor from the Center for Disease Control is monitoring his case.

It is also not known if Kemit will ever be able to return to St. Croix.

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