By Josh Saunders
A mum-of-two is speaking out after strangers confused her toddler’s rare birthmark treatment for ‘abuse’ and a ‘contagious disease’ – instead choosing to dub her ‘polka dot cutie’.
Deanna Latino, 32, from Rockford, Illinois, has been contending with the stares and unsolicited comments from the public since her daughter Bianca, now 13 months, was born.
The little girl was diagnosed with a port wine stain at four days old, after doctors initially believed she had a bruise from labour.
The birthmark that covers nearly half of her face, is part of Sturge-Weber syndrome that caused her to suffer seizures, glaucoma and developmental delays.
Bianca started pulse dye laser treatment at three-months-old to help the tangle of blood vessels under her skin, which cause the birthmark, to empty blood more efficiently.
Parents Deanna and Brandon, 33, hope it will stop the birthmark from growing to the point that it disfigures her face and prevent other issues.
But the treatment that leaves red spots that look like ‘burn marks’ on her skin for two weeks has led strangers to criticise the mum.
Deanna’s battled beliefs that she’s abusing her child, that her daughter has measles because she’s an ‘anti-vaccinator’ and cruel comments about her appearance.
To combat this the family refer to Bianca as their ‘polka dot cutie’ believing it shows the marks resilience and the battle she’s been undergoing.
Deanna, a student nurse practitioner, said: “Pulse Dye Laser treatment helps to rewire the blood vessels underneath to help redirect the blood flow in an appropriate way beneath the skin.
“It’s like there is a highway with lots of cars all going to one location but it’s not emptying, so the laser helps the vessels to empty appropriately.
“If we didn’t treat the birthmark, it would continue to grow into an extreme cause and could cause a facial deformity, harden-up and become darker in colour.
“It always looks worse after treatment, it looks like little burn marks and we have to keep it moist with Vaseline while it heals for two weeks.
“Many times, I’ve been to the grocery store, people have asked if she’s having an allergic reaction or fearing that she has measles because I’m an ‘anti-vaccinator’.
“Mothers turn away and keep their children away from us, other times we have had comments asking if she was burned.
“The worst is when people give stares asking if I’m a good mother and if I hurt my child, that has been very difficult to deal with.
“I don’t blame people for being curious, I want people to ask and educate them so they are less ignorant and more understanding.
“We call her our ‘polka dot cutie’, I view her as adorable and to me the polka dots represent how strong she is.”
Bianca, nicknamed Binks, was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber type two at three-months-old, when it was recognised that she had glaucoma.
She was also recognised to have type one after suffering a seizure at nine-months old, which also presents risks of both mental and physical disabilities.
The diagnoses came as a concern to her parents, who were initially told the large birthmark was a bruise while she was being born and would fade in days.
Deanna said: “After researching the complications of a port wine stain with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, that was our worst fear and it happened in her case.
“The hardest part is that you have to wait and see what happens.
“Only 3% of people with a Port Wine Stain will have Sturge-Weber Syndrome, so she’s very rare as it’s not very common.”
The parents decided to started treatment early in the hope their daughter will face less difficulties in later life.
There is no cure for a port wine stain or Sturge-Weber Syndrome and as Bianca grows so will her birthmark, meaning she will need treatment for the rest of her life.
Deanna said: “One day I thought about putting on make-up to mimic her birthmark and go to a store to see how people would react so i could put myself in her shoes in the future.
“But I couldn’t do it, I don’t like to be stared at and I didn’t want her to be teased or stand out because of that.
“But mainly our reasoning was because we didn’t want it to continuously grow, it’s so unpredictable and can be very aggressive, we don’t know what will happen.
“There are concerns that the seizures could return or it could calcify in her brain, acting like a brain tumour.”
Now going into her tenth pulse dye laser treatment next month, Bianca’s birthmark is barely noticeable and so vastly reduced that the mum barely recognises how she used to look.
Deanna said: “Bianca’s birthmark has changed significantly through the lightening of laser treatment, she barely looks like she has a port wine stain on her face.
“The results are great, I recommend to any new parent questioning if their child should go through it, it’s amazing to see the before and after results.”