By Mirembe Martina
Didier Montalvo, six, from Colombia, had the rare condition of Congenital Melanocytic Nevus ever since he was born. It was a shell on his back which made him be named ‘turtle boy’.
The mole grew on Didier’s back and by the time he was six, he could no longer play with other children because they were afraid of him. Villagers chased them from the village believing they were being haunted by demons or evil spirits.
Too poor to opt for surgery, the family was shunned by the people and they remained in isolation. 1 in every 20,000 newborn babies have the condition but doctors said Didier’s was the worst they have ever seen before.
Didier faced daily huddles in his small Colombian village which exposed just how approximate and ill-conceived the Turtle Boy epithet was, with the ‘shell-like’ mole far from protecting him.
It presents itself as a bounded, light brown to black patch or plaque usually covering any size surface area and any part of the body. The look of the congenital melanocytic nevus is similar to those of nevi acquired after birth.
Didier’s mother, Luz was avoided by villagers in his home blaming his mother whom they said looked at a solar eclipse while pregnant, something that could cause the condition, according to the villagers.
The boy could not attend school or be baptized. This was before a doctor from Columbia flew to the country with a team of surgeons to carry out several operations to remove the birthmark. Sugeron Neil Bulstrode flew to the Colombian capital Bogotá to help a team of surgeons remove the mole which had grown so big that it was feared it could become malignant.
The doctors then had to carry out a complicated series of skin grafts over several stages. “Didier’s was the worst case I had ever seen. Effectively three quarters of the circumference of his body was affected. Obviously he has had to go through a number of painful operations, but we feel it was worth it. It’s great to see the photos of how Didier is getting on now. I’m really happy with how things have healed.’
Mr Bulstrode is an expert in treating patients like Didier, who suffer from Congenital Melanocytic Nevus. The cause is not known but experts think there is a change in the development of skin cells in the embryo triggered by a gene mutation.