Elie is a ten year old boy who lives with his parents and brothers in Porto Novo, the leafy capital of Benin, set on the banks of Lake Nokoue. Elie has an infectious smile and loves football. But the abnormal growth of his foot has made life for Elie increasingly difficult.
Elie’s body over-produces a particular growth hormone that causes his foot and toes to grow disproportionately to his body. As he grown older, Elie has become very aware of the fact that he had an abnormality and it’s begun to impact the way he interacts with the world. His father, Touissant, a taxi driver, has noticed his growing reluctance to participate in activities with his friends. ‘When I ask him why he says it’s because of the way they look at him,’ Touissant says. His mother, Honouine, knows her son’s condition is causing major social problems for him. ‘Since Elie was a small boy I haven’t been able to sleep well because of how he looks. I don’t have happiness,’ she says.
Elie’s dream is to wear shoes. ‘I wish that my feet looked like my friends’,’ he says. His parents have taken him to a number of local doctors who have been unable to help reduce the size of Elie’s foot. Now the best chance Elie has of wearing shoes is a free operation by a Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon.
South African plastic surgeon, Dr Tertius Venter examines Elie’s foot and determines the most effective course of action is to debulk the excessive mass around his foot and remove four of his toes entirely. Elie is admitted to the Africa Mercy for surgery and bravely undergoes a procedure that lasts a number of hours. His surgery is followed by a rehabilitation program with volunteer physiotherapist, Ashley, who challenges and supports Elie to use his feet in new ways.
Mercy Ships organised for a local cobbler to make customised shoes for Elie. His abnormal growth has meant that he’ll always need shoes especially made for him but he now has a chance at living his life unhindered by the burden and shame of disfigurement.
Tune into Surgery Ship 7.30 AEST Tuesday on Nat Geo People