"My little girl's birthmark covers half her face!”

Phoebe Sung is teaching her daughter, who has a port-wine stain on her face, to face life confidently.

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“I was anxiously waiting to meet my daughter after what felt like a lifetime in labour. When they placed little Eloise on my chest, I couldn’t help but marvel at how perfect she looked. But what was that pinkish stain on the right side of her face covering part of her eye, cheek and top lip and travelling all the way up to her temple?

            “Before I could ask, the nurses whisked her away for tests and by the time I saw her again, the mark had become darker and more visible. ‘Will it go away?’ I questioned my gynaecologist when he visited later that day. ‘No,’ he replied regretfully. ‘Eloise was born with a condition called Port-Wine Stain (PWS) and it’s permanent.’

            “My husband Kok Siang and I were crushed. After struggling to start a family for more than four years and surviving a devastating miscarriage, we had been ecstatic to find that I was expecting. We were also over the moon when we found out it was a girl. I had a smooth pregnancy and although giving birth was more overwhelming than expected, nothing had prepared me for this hurdle. I had never even heard of PWS before, nor seen a child with this condition.

            “Kok Siang and I needed some time to digest the news and educate ourselves on the condition. We were distraught and weren’t ready to face the world. So, for the two nights we were in the hospital, we refused to entertain any visitors. Instead, we spent this time reading up about PWS online and asking the doctors as many questions as we could think of.

            “When we brought Eloise home, we still hadn’t come to terms with her condition, but knew we had to stay strong, so as to do the best for our baby. Aesthetic aspects of the condition aside, we were concerned about the health implications on her. A PWS near the eye could lead to glaucoma (the increased pressure inside the eye affects vision and may cause blindness if it’s not treated). And if it’s near the brain area, there’s a rare chance it could cause neurological disorders such as seizures, which are most common in the first three months.

            “We had to carefully monitor Eloise to make sure she didn’t suffer from any of these complications and also take her for an eye check-up every six months. When Eloise was almost 6 months old, we started pulsed-dye laser treatment to help lighten the mark. Although the treatment, which is slightly uncomfortable, only lasts 10 minutes, we needed to literally pin her down as she wouldn’t stop screaming and wiggling the entire time.

            “The first time was the worst. It broke my heart to see my sweetie suffer — her eyes were covered, so she was confused over what was going on. According to the doctors, this treatment can be carried out on Eloise up to 20 times, so as to lighten the mark by about 70 per cent. These don’t come cheap though, since each session costs $600, but luckily, it’s fully covered by Medisave.

Click on for how the family is coping...