Funds sought to help missionary return home

Becky Vargo • Mar 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

The family of a West Michigan missionary is asking the world for prayers to help the man who was critically injured just over a week ago in Haiti.

They are also trying to raise funds to bring Tom Braak back to the Grand Rapids area for rehabilitation.

Braak, 55, who operates Faith in Action International, was struck by a truck following an argument with the driver, according to his sister, Susie Portillos.

Braak is the son of former Grand Haven resident, Larry Braak, whose family operated Braak’s Bakery in Spring Lake for many years. Braak grew up in Marquette.

Portillos said her family learned of the March 2, incident, early on Saturday, March 3, because it took several hours for the ambulance to reach the hospital in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Braak suffered a brain injury, one and a half collapsed lungs, a fractured pelvis and seven broken ribs on his left side.

Portillos said she doesn’t know how her brother survived the trip, due to the extent of his injuries.

The incident occurred when Braak paid up front for a truckload of plants to be delivered to different communities.

Once the truck was loaded, the driver demanded more money, Portillos said. Then he started to drive away.

“Tom works very hard. Those plants go to feed people,” Portillos said.

Apparently Braak tried to grab plants back off the truck, but was run over as the truck sped away, she said.

Braak was stabilized at the Port Au Prince hospital, and then transferred to the United States for care due to his injuries, Portillos said.

“We got him airlifted to West Palm Beach, Florida on Sunday (March 4),” Portillos said.

That’s when they started a GoFundMe page to help with the medical costs. Portillos said it cost almost $30,000 to get Braak airlifted to Florida. 

The family is working on arrangements for a rehab facility and how to get Braak to Michigan or whatever state where they arrange for a rehab facility.

“We will need to raise much more (money),” Portillos said. 

The GoFundMe page had raised more than $21,000 as of Sunday night. Portillos said donations were also being made through Faith in Action International, as well as to her PayPal account and through the mail.

Portillos said her brother is healing physically, but has a very long way to go.

“He’s awake and responding,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “He can move his arms. He can give a thumbs up.” 

Portillos said Braak couldn’t talk because he has a tracheotomy. He is on a ventilator, but is breathing mostly on his own now.

Braak can be moved very soon, Portillos said.

“They say the sooner he gets to rehab, the better his prognosis,” she said.

Braak is currently at West Palm Beach St. Mary’s Medical Center. 

“They have been phenomenal with him and the family,” Portillos said.

Portillos spent four days in Florida with her brother. Other family members, including her father, brother David and sister Kara Witham are there now.

Her uncle, Casey Nash of Grand Haven, was also there last week.

An emergency Visa had to be obtained for Braak’s wife, Ficilta. Portillos said they are working on arrangements for the couple’s 10-year-old son, Ryan, to join them.

Portillos said her 81-year-old father had returned from Haiti just a week before the incident.

“Tom had neck surgery,” Portillos said.

Braak was in Kalamazoo for the surgery and his father returned to Haiti with him for a couple weeks to help out.

Portillos said her brother went to Haiti in 1997 with a backpack on his back. 

“He decided they needed his help and he’s been there ever since,” she said.

Faith in Action International provides residents with fruit trees and vegetables as a way to help improve health and the economy. The organization also strives to improve water quality by providing water filters to families.

“Tom does the work and has a few employees,” Portillos said. “Volunteer groups go down there all the time.”

She said they don’t know what is going to happen with the organization at this time.

Portillos thanked everyone who has prayed for Braak and contributed to his medical transportation and care.

“Our family is completely overwhelmed with everybody who is helping Tom,” she said.

“We are a very strong Christian family,” Portillos said. “This is what Tom does because he wants to serve God.”

Notes of encouragement can be sent to Braak here: www.facebook.com/letterstotombraak

Donations can be made via GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/tombraak 

Anyone who wants to make a Paypal contribution can do so by using Portillos’ email: [email protected]

Checks can be sent to Susan Portillos or to Faith in Action International, at 10701 Cherry Court, Thornton, Colo. 80233.

Portillo said make sure anything sent notes that it is for Braak’s medical care.

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