Baby girl whose birthmark was strangling her to death makes miracle recovery thanks to pioneering drug

Millie can finally smile after becoming the first person in the UK to trial a miracle drug

Millie can finally smile after becoming the first person in the UK to trial a miracle drug

A little girl whose birthmark was literally strangling her to death can finally smile after becoming the first person in the UK to trial a miracle drug.

Millie Field, three, was born with a small, blue mark on her face which doctors told her parents Michelle and Stuart was a bruise from a particularly speedy labour.

However, within a matter of days the
mark had developed into an angry and ulcerated red growth which not only
left Millie disfigured but was also forming a stranglehold on her
windpipe, jaw and larynx.

At just 20 days old Millie was taken into intensive care where she spent the next six months.

At that point the birthmark, known as a hemangioma, had grown so large that Millie needed a
tracheostomy just to breathe. The operation in June 2008 left her unable to make a sound.

But now, Millie can speak and smile like a typical toddler after her parents took a gamble a few days later on a wonder drug. She made such rapid improvement she was allowed home a few days later, with regular check-ups.

Bank worker Michelle, 37, from Rochford in Essex, said: 'Millie is a little fighter. Right from the beginning she was not going to let this thing beat her and we are just so proud of everything she has had to overcome.

'The results of the drug were instant. We could see before our very eyes that the birthmark was changing colour and getting smaller over a period of days. Now she is doing remarkably well. It's completely changed her life.

'I am just so grateful for everything the doctors and nurses have done for us in allowing Millie to live a totally normal life, which at one point we feared would never be possible.'

Poorly: Millie aged five months with her father Stuart at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her condition deteriorated until she couldn't feed or suck

Poorly: Millie aged five months with her father Stuart at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her condition deteriorated until she couldn't feed or suck

Michelle, who has a son Ben, 15, had longed for another child with Stuart, a fraud investigator when, after months of fertility treatment she eventually fell pregnant with Millie.

While the pregnancy had been completely normal, Millie came into the world after just a 1.5-hour labour and when she was born Michelle noticed a bluish mark on her face along her jawline.

Michelle said: 'The nurses told me it was just a bruise from the fast delivery and told us it would go away eventually.'

But just five days after she was born, Millie's 'bruise' changed colour from blue to a dark, blood red and started to change shape.

Midwives and health visitors who came to inspect Millie did not seem overly concerned and told her the redness was possibly a Port Wine Stain birthmark.

Nevertheless, Michelle decided to do some research into birthmarks online and found the Birthmark Support Group who gave her a telephone number for a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital's dermatology unit.

Recovery: Millie started to improve after taking propanolol. However, her parents said other adults sometimes made unkind comments

Recovery: Millie started to improve after taking propanolol. However, her parents said other adults sometimes made unkind comments about her

Michelle said: '/01/11/article-2085095-0F6931D600000578-570_468x346.jpg” width=”468″ height=”346″ alt=”Beginning: The red mark as it started to form when Millie was just a few weeks old” class=”blkBorder” />

Beginning: The red mark as it started to form when Millie was just a few weeks old

Outside the womb, the tumour was feeding off Millie's independent blood supply and growing all over her face, neck and windpipe.

Millie would spend the next six months of her life in GOSH being given strong steroids to shrink the tumour. However, they had little effect and over time the mark began to ulcerate and scar, leaving her open to frequent infections.

Eventually, doctors made the decision to give Millie a tracheostomy in a seven-hour operation to allow her to breathe. The breathing tube required round-the-clock maintenance and meant she would not be able to make even the smallest sound.

In addition, she needed a naso-gastric feeding tube as the tumour had made it impossible for her to suck.

Michelle said: 'One of the saddest parts was not being able to feed her and look after her and never hearing her cry or make a sound.

'The tumour was growing everywhere meaning she couldn't suck, swallow and breathe at the same time.

'It's hard to describe how we felt about everything because we barely had time to adjust to it. It all happened so fast. One minute we had our baby daughter and were imagining what she was going to do in the future and the next minute all those things felt like a pipe dream.

'Now she couldn't even breathe on her own.'

Now we were able to kiss and cuddle her and within a few days she was able to move her head from side to side

Millie's future seemed uncertain until one day Michelle heard about a new drug trial taking place in France. There doctors had seen some success in treating hemangiomas with a drug called propanolol, a beta-blocker used to treat hypertension and heart conditions.

Doctors noticed that when children with heart complaints who also had hemangiomas were treated with the drug that their tumours appeared to shrink.

However, with Millie's health continuing to deteriorate, doctors were at first reluctant to take a risk on something that might not work and might even worsen her health.

Michelle said: 'We discussed it with Millie's dermatologist and with her ear, nose and throat specialist, but at that time because she had pneumonia and was having breathing problems they didn't think it was a good idea.

'But in the end we had to try it, especially seeing the difference it had made for other children. She wasn't improving and had no quality of life – she was just getting worse and worse.'

Eventually the doctors relented and while under strict supervision Millie was given the drug from July 2008 to August 2010 in slowly increasing doses.

Miraculously, the birthmark which had blighted her young life began to fade before her parents' very eyes.

Michelle said: 'The result was almost instant. We could see it changing colour straightaway and developing clear patches on her face.

'It changed her life completely. The tumour was really sore and she never liked to be touched or picked up because it gave her so much pain. She needed morphine on a regular basis just to make her comfortable.

'But now, we were able to kiss and cuddle her and within a few days she was able to move her head from side to side.'

But while Millie's birthmark was fading, she still had a long road of recovery ahead of her. After a few failed attempts to remove Millie's tracheostomy, it was decided she would need to have her airway reconstructed using a piece of rib cartilage as the tumour had damaged it so severely.

So in April 2010 she underwent a complicated surgery to rebuild her airway and after two weeks in hospital was finally able to breathe on her own.

In January Millie is due to have plastic surgery to reconstruct her lip although she will still have extensive scarring.

Michelle said: 'She still has some speech problems because of the damage to her mouth, but her naso-gastric tube was taken out last October and since then she can basically do everything a normal three-year-old can do.

'I do sometimes worry about how people will react to her when she starts school as my instinct is to protect her. Sometimes even adults stare and say thoughtless things like, 'Oh, your daughter has chocolate on her face'.

'I can't understand why some people feel the need to pass comment on what she looks like.

'As far as I'm concerned she is beautiful and we are just glad she has been given the chance to live her life like any other little girl because at one time we weren't sure any of this would be possible.'

For more information about birthmarks, contact The Birthmark Support Group at www.birthmarksupportgroup.org.uk or by calling 0845 045 4700