Despite his work ethic, intelligence, and passion for education, 19-year-old Bernard faced a future where he would not be merited by his hard-earned qualifications nor his determination to succeed. Instead, he would be judged by the genetic neurofibromatosis that had disfigured his face for over a decade.
When Bernard was four years old, his parents first noticed a growth on his face, but they couldn’t get him the treatment he needed. Hope was reignited when he was 11, and local surgeons agreed to operate. But that flicker of hope was soon extinguished after the same doctors declared his condition too complex and cancelled the surgery. Bernard and his family were told they needed to pay US$60,000 for a specialist, and the reality of the growth never being removed began to sink in.
‘That day I felt hopeless,’ said Bernard, his head hung. ‘I had told all of my friends that I was getting surgery, and I had to go back defeated.’
But Bernard used his disappointment to drive his efforts in school, promising to let nothing stop him from achieving his goals. But he still waited every day for a chance to be healed. Over the years, Bernard gained excellent merits at school and was working toward a better future. His father encouraged him to dream and always made sure to motivate him to work hard to reach his goals.
The young dreamer soon became a top student in his class. ‘You cannot let what people say about you stop you from doing what you want to do,’ Bernard said. ‘All my life I wanted to be something big, and no matter what people said about me, I would not let it stop
But all of his qualifications and positivity could not stop other people from wrongly judging Bernard’s ability based on his appearance. ‘I did not feel limited inside, but I knew that my condition would restrict me externally as people would judge me.’
As Bernard looked toward college and a career, he knew that his tumour would play a factor in both. ‘It’s great that it didn’t affect his personality or self-esteem, but eventually, these types of conditions can lead to further problems, and it would be hard for him to get a job where he wasn’t judged,’ said Deb Louden, who cared for Bernard while he was onboard the Africa Mercy.
His school teachers knew this was a possibility and were concerned for their student. After pointing him in the direction of Mercy Ships, Bernard was finally given the opportunity to have surgery.
‘When they told me it was possible, I had a feeling of euphoria I can’t even explain!’ exclaimed Bernard. But in the back of his mind was the knowledge that the removal of his neurofibromatosis was no standard procedure. Ten hours of surgery and over 4.5 litres of blood loss later, Bernard awoke — free at last from the weight that threatened to hold him back.
Immediately after his surgery, Bernard asked when he could return to school. At the first opportunity, he took out his study books and spoke to classmates on the phone to catch up on lessons while in the wards. Nothing was stopping this determined young man from taking his exams the following month.
Following previous disappointments and surgery cancellations, Bernard only told a handful of people at school where he had been. So when he walked into his exam hall filled with hundreds of his friends and schoolmates, there was an eruption of joy when they saw him!
‘We cannot believe it!’ cried one friend. ‘What a difference this will make to his life!’ Teachers and students danced and cheered as Bernard made his way to the front of the room to triumphantly greet his peers.
‘Before the surgery, people would keep their distance,’ Bernard said. ‘But now people approach me. It’s given me more confidence and self-esteem, and I now have more opportunities than I had before! Thank you, Mercy Ships!’
Written by: Georgia Ainsworth