Didier is a six-year old boy struggling to lead a normal life in a remote part of war-torn Colombia. He was born with a rare condition, Congenital Melanocytic Nevus (CMN), a particularly unusual brown birthmark. At birth Didier’s CMN lay flat, covering 40% of his body surface and enveloping his back and abdomen. It has since grown outwards, morphing into a giant protruding mole that resembles a turtle’s shell. Didier’s mole now significantly restricts his movements and way of life. Doctors in Colombia are increasingly concerned that the mole could threaten the young boy’s life by turning cancerous.
Didier was born to Luz, a single mother caring for a young family in one of Colombia’s most dangerous regions. Here drug trafficking and kidnapping are rife and electricity and running water scarce. Attitudes to Didier and his mother are tinged with superstition, many blaming Luz for her son’s condition; In a land steeped in folklore, locals believe that Didier’s condition is a result of his mother glancing up at a solar eclipse and thus harming her unborn child. Luz questions whether that innocent glance has condemned Didier to a life as “turtle boy”.
As with all CMNs Didier’s condition is incurable. One in 20,000 children are born with large or multiple CMN, however none on Didier’s scale has been treated before. More worrying still, 25% of CMN diagnosed on the skin are linked to nevi in the brain. In some cases these moles become malignant and doctors are powerless to treat them. Didier’s mother is now desperately concerned for her son whose only hope lies in a complex, risky and costly operation to remove his giant mole.
With the scarcest of economic resources Luz has for years only been able to dream of a better life for her son. However, just as his situation has become desperate fortunes seem to have changed for Didier. Thanks to a local TV news report, awareness of the “Turtle Boy” has spread throughout Colombia and beyond, unleashing a wave of public sympathy and pledges of money for Didier and Luz to travel to Bogotá to receive crucial medical care and the operation that will transform his life. Luz’s prayers have been answered.
Because of the complex nature of the surgery the Colombian team have invited a leading surgeon from the UK’s renowned Great Ormond Street Children’s’ Hospital to fly to Bogotá to oversee the operation and advise on the extensive skin grafts to re-build the little boy’s back. It will be a long journey to recovery but finally Didier and Luz can realize freeing Didier of his “turtle boy” stigma and the chance to start a new life. For the first time, Didier will be able to attend school and his mother will now feel able to have him baptized.
Turtle Boy is a story of a massively challenging and life changing operation and an emotional journey to restore one young boy’s health and a mother’s faith in life.
Watch Didier’s remarkable journey toward healing in Turtle Boy this Sunday, July 8th at 9P et/pt