Hope and Courage

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Review of 'The Boy David Story', director Alex McCall

The Boy David Story follows the life of a baby born in 1974 with a horribly disfigured face - a big hole where a nose should have been, half a mouth and two normal eyes. He was abandoned in a Peruvian forest. He was found and taken to hospital in Lima where the long saga of rehabilitation and plastic surgery began, covering in all 85 operations (70 before he was 14), mostly performed in the US, for which there were few precedents to help the surgeons. Just one of these - using bone from his skull to build a nose - took five hours.

The surgeon was a Dr Jackson, who had to devise all the medical and surgical steps and who in the process became emotionally involved with the child, so that when he became old enough for the US immigration authorities to start intervening and refusing to allow him to stay in the country, Dr Jackson and his wife Margery decided to adopt the boy. But this also presented problems. The authorities, both American and Peruvian, would not budge without a birth certificate for the boy.

And so began an amazing journey by Margery Jackson back in the Peruvian jungle to try to find David's parents. Travelling vast distances, through jungles, over mountains, over lakes, on roads largely unmade, Margery amazingly managed to find David's family.

Now the Peruvian authorities made difficulties, a new law due to be enacted making conditions for adoption almost impossible. Margery had five days to the deadline. She travelled 500 miles a night to reach the little village where David's parents and eight siblings, a poor family, lived. With the help of the president of Peru and his wife, the birth certificate and other legal requirements were obtained.

By this time the case had become headline news, and the Jackson family converged on the village from Scotland, Canada, the US etc to celebrate. The adoption was granted by the judge 12 hours before the law changed. This tense scramble with the immigration authorities of the US and Peru is the highlight of the film.

David went to an ordinary school between operations, but children can be cruel. Besides jibes, he was made to eat his lunch facing the wall, so as not to 'upset' other children. However, he was, aside from his disfigurement, a healthy, lively, sporty, friendly and very bright child. He was excited at the prospect of getting 'a real nose', and after its appearance he went from strength to strength. He did well at school and went on to graduate from an art school. He got a graphic design job with a firm, and after successfully dealing with customers, set up on his own. One unresolved issue is whether he should endure further operations to perfect the plastic surgery, as his current appearance is a remarkable transformation but not yet completely natural. Whatever the case, he seems very happy with his circumstances.

The film, photographed over 20 years in Peru, Spain, Britain and the US, is a remarkable testimony to what can be achieved - as the film says, 'a miracle of surgical skill and of what love can do'.

Indeed so. Which makes one think.

I would call a current equivalent of David Lopez the Iraqi 12 year old Ali Abbas, who lost both arms and was badly burned in the Iraq war. Newspapers and charities are vying to help him, and he has been flown to Britain to get the best treatment. The Guardian article about him tells the true story. It is headlined 'One Ali Saved, But Thousands More Are Suffering'.

And what about the thousands of children with HIV in South Africa and elsewhere who miss out because the drugs are too expensive and the drug companies fight to keep them so? Do the president and his wife bless them with love and technical skill to cure them?

This film is very moving. If it inspires a fight by Third World people for much more medical aid from first world governments it will serve a useful purpose.