A young boy from Colombia carried a huge weight on his back, literally. Six-year-old Didier Montalvo was known in their village as “turtle boy,” because of the giant mole that, over the years, had grown so big it covered his back and looked like a turtle shell. But thanks to the kind heart of a doctor from the UK, Didier can now enjoy a normal life just like the other kids in his village.
Growing up, Didier and his family were shunned by the superstitious residents of their rural village who believed that the boy was touched by malevolent forces because he was conceived during an eclipse. Didier was not allowed to be baptized or to attend school because of these superstitious beliefs.
In addition to being ostracized by society, the fact that the growth on Didier’s back, which was caused by the rare medical condition known as Congenital Melanocytic Nevus (CMN), grew to such a large size increased the risk of the mole becoming malignant. But Didier’s mother did not have the financial resources to give her son the medical attention he needed.
After learning about the boy, Dr. Neil Bulstrode, a prominent British plastic surgeon, offered to operate on the boy for free. He flew to Bogota, Colombia and joined a team of surgeons to remove the giant mole on Didier’s back. The operation involved several stages of complicated skin grafts. According to Dr. Bulstrode, about three-quarters of the circumference of Didier’s body was affected by the growth; the boy’s CMN “was the worst case” he had ever seen.
In an interview, Dr. Bulstrode added, “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.”
Dr. Bulstrode has been operating on CMN cases for years; he performs an average of 40 CMN removals every year in the UK. Up until now, it is not known exactly what causes the rare condition. Scientists have speculated that a gene mutation that occurs during the embryonic stage of a fetus may trigger a change in development of the embryo’s skin cells.