Barthelimy is a cool, calm and collected motorbike mechanic who runs a small workshop in the dusty backstreets of Porto Novo, Benin. He carries the great responsibility of supporting a young family - he has four children, all under 8 years old. Together with his wife and mother-in-law, the family lives just a just a few hundred metres away from the workshop, in a small house located between a tailor shop and a mens hair salon.
Barthelimy has a very large tumour on his face which has been growing since 2006. In 2009 Mercy Ships visited Benin but he found out about their arrival too late and was unable to be admitted to the hospital. His father wanted him to follow the ship to neighbouring Togo, but it wasn’t possible for him to travel there. Now, 8 years later, Mercy Ships have returned to Benin and Barthelimy is scheduled for surgery.
Dr Gary Parker and Dr Kyley operate on Barthelimy’s tumour and it is one of the most complicated surgeries of this kind they have ever had to perform. The tumour is wrapped around one of the central nerves that gives movement to the face. If the surgeons aren’t meticulous with the removal of the tumour, there is a real risk that Barthelimy could lose the ability to use his mouth. After many hours of careful work in the operating theatre, the surgery is completed with no major damage to the nerve.
Image: Dr Gay Parker
Barthelimy made the decision to not tell his children that he was going away to have his tumour removed, and it is a real surprise to them when he returns home a different man. Although the healing process has been painful and lengthy, Barthelimy is grateful to be rid of the tumour and enjoys telling everyone the story of this time on the ship. He’s now returned to work and people from all over Porto Novo come to visit him at the workshop to see his transformation. On the phone, he tells a friend.
If you see me now, oh God, I’m very handsome!
Tune into Surgery Ship Tuesday 7.30pm on Nat Geo People to view Barthelimy and Sergio's story.