The Valdosta Daily Times
When international businessman and adventurer Tony Kincaid arrived at the hospital in March of this year, he didn’t know it but he was close to death. A strong, healthy man in his prime, Kincaid was slowly succumbing to the effects of not one, but two tropical diseases — dengue and malaria.
Kincaid had been traveling non-stop since returning to the U.S. from South America, and was working temporarily in Louisiana. He flew to Oregon where he began feeling ill, but felt good enough to fly to Denver, Colo., for a meeting. He almost checked into a hospital there, but instead, he flew back to Louisiana, got in his car and drove the hundreds of miles to his home in Nashville, Ga.
Less than 24 hours later, he was in South Georgia Medical Center, being treated by Dr. Willy Saurina, an infectious disease specialist who is one of the rare physicians with experience treating mosquito-borne illnesses.
“By the time that I saw him, he was nearly dead. If he was old or had any type of other ailment, this would have killed him, but because he is strong and healthy, he was able to recover from the infections,” Saurina said.
Kincaid believes that God was with him, guiding him home to be with his family and to be treated by Dr. Saurina.
“If I had gone to the hospital in Denver, I might not be here today,” said Kincaid.
Cases of dengue and malaria are very rare in the U.S., with fewer than 1,500 cases reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nearly all of those infected contract the disease while traveling overseas, and to contract both simultaneously is extremely rare.
In the last 12 years since moving to Valdosta, Saurina has seen less than a dozen dengue and malaria cases, but enough to know the symptoms and best course of treatment.
“It was so bad, the malaria had spread to his brain. Cerebral malaria can kill you, but I was able to diagnose him quickly as he had one of the classic symptoms. One minute he’d be coherent and the next he’d be confused, and with cerebral malaria, abnormal behavior is common,” said Saurina.
Kincaid said the diseases were wreaking havoc on his mind as well as his body.
“It attacks your body but it also attacks your emotions. It gives you a wild perspective. One minute I was fine and the next, I wasn’t sure where I was,” he said.
Kincaid spent nine days in SGMC receiving heavy doses of antibiotics. At one point, Dr. Saurina told him he was famous.
“He told me, ‘They love your blood in the lab,’ because most of them hadn’t seen this before and they were using my blood as a teaching tool.”
Kincaid attributes his recovery “to God, my wife, Dr. Garcia (whom he sought medical help from initially), Dr. Saurina, the interns and nurses and Ms. Sandra, a beautiful nurse who helped me recover.”
Although Kincaid’s nearly fatal brush with death from mosquito bites is a sensational story, the story of how he came to be infected is even more so. He is a minerals miner, and was in Guyana in South America mining for diamonds and gold.
Originally from Missouri, Kincaid came to the area with the Air Force, stationed at Moody AFB. Here, he met his bride of 25 years, a native of Nashville. After his four years in the military, they began their odyssey, working and living around the country. Kincaid has worked in a variety of jobs including buying ships and barges to sell for scrap metal, buying oil, and gold prospecting for a short time in Alaska.
It was on a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., to buy oil from a tanker accident that he met Bill Holland of Holland Oil in Valdosta.
“He hired me and we moved back to Nashville,” said Kincaid.
Both his wanderlust and ambition drove Kincaid to continue seeking other opportunities, which led to his work with mining companies.
“It’s a unique business. I was working with a mining company in Mexico when the opportunity came to work with a new mining operation in South America.”
Before going to Guyana, Kincaid said the company made sure he had all of his shots and was taking the malaria protocol, which included taking antibiotics before, during and for several weeks after going to South America.
Kincaid made the trip, staying for a few weeks at a time, five times before he got sick.
“I stopped the malaria medicine too soon when I got back. Now, I check in with Dr. Saurina before I go and after I come back, and he gives me a package of medicine to take with me just in case.”
Guyana is rich in diamonds, gold and bauxite. The minerals comprise more than 50 percent of the country’s exports. As a former Dutch and British colony, English is widely spoken in Guyana and there are few language barriers, although Kincaid said, “It takes a while to get used to an Amerindian speaking English with an Irish lilt to it.”
The country is very welcoming to foreign investors and mining companies, and Kincaid said the people are leery at first, but once you get to know them, you’re treated like family.
A man of high principles, it is very important to Kincaid that he work with a company that doesn’t just take, but gives as well.
“Every time we go, we adopt an orphanage. It’s our first and last stop on every trip, and we give them whatever they need. It’s not unusual for families to abandon children or their elderly, so it’s important that we help.”
Much of the country is pure wilderness, with thick jungle, few roads and passage mostly by river into the mining areas. On the trip in early March when he contracted the diseases, Kincaid was at one mining camp, up in the hills, and needed to go to another mining camp to look at some equipment.
“I had to hike, then boat, then go by truck, then took a jetboat down the river. They dropped me off on the shore, and there was nothing, literally nothing, around that I could see. The person I was supposed to meet and I got our times and dates mixed up, and it turns out he was coming the next day.”
He was able to get a ride on a boat into the next town, where he was put up for the night at the police station, and then he got a ride back to the landing, where his contact was meeting him. He’s convinced he was bitten and infected that night.
“Down there, most of them have had malaria 50 or more times, but they have immunities built up to fight it that we don’t.”
His illness hasn’t slowed down his adventures, though, and Kincaid has been back to Guyana to work. When asked how hard it is to mine for diamonds and gold, he said the “diamonds find you.”
When he’s home in Nashville, he works on his family’s organic farm, but otherwise, Kincaid flies wherever his fortunes take him.