Our Prize Fighter
Emily looked like she had been in a boxing match. There were tiny bruises all over her right cheek. Her face glistened with Vaseline, as though the cut man had prepped her for another round. But Emily wasn’t heading back into the ring. She was heading home after her first pulsed-dye-laser treatment.
After talking with her dermatologist about the aggressive nature of Emily’s facial hemangioma and how it probably wouldn’t be gone before she was 10, we decided to discuss Emily’s options.
Emily’s dermatologist suggested pulsed-dye laser treatment. A pulsed-dye-laser is a bright light that destroys abnormal blood vessels under the skin.
The procedure was simple and painless. But because of the proximity to Emily’s eye, the procedure required anesthesia. Emily would have to undergo the treatment in an operating room at the hospital, which upped our anxiety ten-fold.
I first asked the doctor whether the effectiveness of the laser was greater when she was younger. She confirmed that recent studies have shown much better results on infants than older children. Also, if we wait too long, the hemangioma can permanently scar her skin. It may damage her eye. And, whether we wanted to admit it or not, dealing with a large red mark on her face when entering school could also damage Emily psychologically.
Her dermatologist said she’s seen far too many school aged children come in for laser treatment after being ridiculed and tortured by other children. “It’s heart breaking and Emily doesn’t deserve that,” she said.
I knew my dermatologist was right. I knew that I should take advantage of the amazing medical procedures that are available to us. But I was worried about the anesthesia. I was also worried about changing Emily’s appearance.
There is part of me that will miss the strawberry red mark on the right side of Emily’s face. There is also part of me that wants Emily to learn to embrace what makes her different and stand up to those who hurt her.
But then, I walk around a park with Emily facing out in the baby bjorn and remember why I wish her hemangioma was already gone. I can’t take two steps without someone asking me what’s wrong with her. It’s a common occurrence to overhear one child telling another to check out the baby with the scary face. Everyone stops and stares. Everyone.
For now, Emily loves the attention. She flaps her arms with excitement and grins at those who look her way. She doesn’t recognize the fear in their faces. She can’t understand the mean things they say.
Ultimately, my husband and I decided to treat her hemangioma to give Emily a clean slate. We want to let her determine how she wants to be different. We feel fortunate that Emily’s physical difference is something that can be easily treated. We feel like it’s our duty as her parents to prevent any permanent scarring on her face and to prevent any potential ridicule down the road.
Emily’s first laser treatment was a huge success. She tolerated it like a champ, smiling all the way into the OR and waking up happy just a few minutes after it ended. Because Emily did so well, the dermatologist said we may only have to do a few more treatments before we see results.
We hope, one day, Emily will look back on what we did and thank us for making the financial and emotional committment to remove her birthmark. I hope, one day, when Emily is a teenager, she doesn’t rebel and get a giant red tattoo where her birthmark used to be.