Port wine-stain treatments: The earlier the better


About 1 million people in the United States have Port-wine stain birthmarks. For many, it’s more than cosmetic. Now new devices can speed the treatment process.

19-month-old Riley Shehigian is in constant motion. But even in those rare times when she’s still, it’s hard to see the red birthmark she was born with covering the left side of her face.

Chandra Shehigian, Riley’s mother said, “They said oh it’s just bruising from labor and birth, but it didn’t go away.”

Dermatologists diagnosed the port-wine stain birthmark when Riley was five days old. Five days later, doctors began treatment.

Grant Shehigian, Riley’s father said, “For her sake, we wanted to treat her, and we wanted to treat her young. Hopefully, she won’t remember what she went through.”

Using a device called the v-beam laser doctors delivered quick pulses to the red area of Riley’s face.

Leonard Bernstein, MD dermatologist, Laser and Skin Surgery Center of NY said, “The laser, it goes through the skin, heats up the blood. That heat expands and destroys the lining of the vessel, hopefully destroying the vessel wall.”

The laser, seen here during an adult treatment, allows doctors to treat a section about the size of a dime, and then repeat until they’ve lasered the entire birthmark.

“The treatment of an infant is safe, but it does have the feel of a rubber band snapping on the surface of the skin,” said Doctor Bernstein.

Doctor Bernstein said the updated laser device makes treatment easier on patients since its faster with no need for anesthesia.

Here’s what Riley’s birthmark looked like before and after more than a year of treatment every few weeks.

Grant Shehigian said, “The fact that someone can’t recognize it. That’s the goal. That’s the hope.”

Other treatments have been tried for port-wine stains, including freezing, surgery, and radiation.

Doctors say laser therapy is the only one that destroys the malformed blood vessels without causing damage to the skin.

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