ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After 56 years of discomfort, embarrassment, and even pain, Maureen Dillon was finally able to go out in public with only one layer of makeup on. She felt beautiful for the first time since adolescence. She jumped in a pool without worrying about her makeup washing off and revealing a strawberry-colored cheek and nose.
Dillon had lived with port wine stains since birth, and they became darker and brought more distress as the years went on.
After dealing with blood vessel clusters and papules, swelling and infections, Dillon's family doctor sent her to see Jeffrey Orringer, M.D.,
director of the Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Center at the University of Michigan Health System. Orringer used lasers that, over eight treatments, removed Dillon's port wine stains.
Three of every 1,000 children born has a port wine stain, which is made up of numerous dilated vessels in a localized part of the skin. They can occur anywhere on the body, but most laser treatment patients have port wine stains on the face or neck.
"There are lots of theories about why port wine stains develop, but the truth is that no one really knows why a child is born with a port wine stain," Orringer says.
Even though he cannot explain why Dillon or anyone else gets the vascular birthmark, he has good odds of making them better with the laser therapy: 75 percent to 80 percent of patients have their port wine stain lightened by at least 50 percent, and the mark disappears completely in 15 percent to 20 percent of patients.
"When this type of laser therapy is performed by an experienced physician, risks are really very low," Orringer says. The combination of state-of-the-art lasers with experienced anesthesia doctors makes the treatments essentially pain-free for children undergoing the procedure, he added. Adults generally tolerate the treatments in the clinic setting without the need for anesthesia.
Treatments typically take just a few minutes. The patient reclines in a chair, wearing goggles to protect the eyes, while the doctor uses the laser in small circles to reach the entire surface of the port wine stain. Bruising occurs for up to two days after each treatment. Dillon said the look reminded her of black currant jelly. When the bruising wears off, the strawberry-colored port wine stain is not there either.
"It was just amazing," Dillon said. She no longer requires the antibiotics or prednisone that she needed for infections and swelling from the birthmark.
Orringer recommends that those with port wine stains seek treatment early in life as they normally worsen over time; however, he has also treated older patients with great results.