Hannah Storm Reveals Truth About Vascular Birthmarks
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
recently revealed her port wine stain on the Early Show.
CBS Early Show anchor Hannah Storm has covered too many stories to count
during her 20 years as a journalist. But perhaps the biggest story Storm
has reported involved a cover-up spanning several decades.
Storm revealed on camera during her morning show that she has a port wine stain
under her left eye.
"I took my makeup off on air, because I wanted people to see what a port wine
stain is," says Storm, who hosted four Olympics for NBC. "My birthmark essentially
looks like I have a black eye. It isn't that bad so you can imagine if it has
been this big a part of my life - think of what it must be like for children
with more serious birthmarks that cover half their face."
Port wine stains, sometimes called vascular birthmarks, are an accumulation
of larger than normal blood vessels. The blood flowing through these vessels
gives the appearance of a stain, ranging in color from pale pink to dark purple
"My mom always told me it was my beauty mark instead of a birthmark," says
Storm,41. "When I was little at least one friend would ask, 'Can I have one
Many kids, unfortunately, get that very wish.
An estimated 1 million Americans are living with port wine stains. According
to the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation, approximately three in every 1000 people
are born with a port wine stain. Annually about 40,000 children born
with a port wine stain will require the care of a specialist.
Storm probably would have continued living quietly with her birthmark had the
Sturge-Weber Foundation not contacted Storm after she revealed in an
interview she had a birthmark.
"They asked me to help increase awareness about the health concerns for people
with port wine stains," Storm explains. "I said, 'What health concerns?' I had
That is how Storm learned port wine stains are not just a cosmetic issue but
a medical issue.
"It is very important people understand that these birthmarks are seriously
affect a person's health," stresses Storm, who told her story on the Early Show.
"A port wine stain that involves the upper eyelid, forehead, and scalp -- alone
or in conjunction with the cheek -- may put the child at risk for Sturge-Weber
Syndrome," says Roy Geronemus, a dermatologist and director of the Laser and
Skin Surgery Center of New York.
Sturge-Weber syndrome involves three different organs - the skin, the eye and
the brain-that are all affected by the port wine stain. The skin involves the
port wine stain itself. The eye can involve glaucoma, and the brain can involve
"When I see a newborn with a port wine stain over the forehead, eye and/or
scalp, I will make sure that child sees an ophthalmologist immediately who can
treat any possible glaucoma and prevent them from losing their eyesight," states
Geronemus, who is also a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University
Port wine stains also thicken and get bumpier as patients get older. This can
be not only a cosmetic problem but also a functional problem because the bumps
have a tendency to bleed - or ulcerate - spontaneously.
Storm admits that she didn't even know positive outcomes in treating port wine
stains were possible. "I hadn't ever explored anything because of my past negative
experiences," she says.
Storm's first procedures began in third grade - procedures which are now considered
antiquated and even barbaric. Instead of improving her condition, these treatments
actually left Storm with quite a bit of scar tissue.
"I had a serial excision - basically they tried to cut the birthmark off of
my face," Storm explains. "So they cut the skin out under the left eye where
the birthmark is and then stitch it up. I had that done twice. Each time the
doctor said it would be gone, but each time it regenerated as they do."
Dermabrasion followed the surgeries.
"I also had the area tattooed which required general anesthesia like the surgery,"
Storm recalls. "They tattooed this sort of milky-white color that wasn't anything
close to skin tone on top of my birthmark. Now I have some red and some white
below my eye, so it gives it that bruised sort of look."
In college Storm received a couple of laser surgeries which doctors promised
her would finally rid her of the birthmark. But the lasers were not advanced
like they are now, and Storm was left with third degree burns under her eye.
"I had to undergo burn recovery twice," Storm states. "The skin is quite heavily
scarred. It was very disappointing, because every time each procedure didn't
make it get better. So I gave up and really did nothing about it for twenty-some
But now treatments are producing far more positive results.
Laser, specifically the pulsed dye laser, is the treatment of choice for port
wine stains afflicting children. The pulsed dye laser is designed to treat blood
vessels only. It targets the blood vessel by penetrating the skin without producing
any injury and shrinks the dilated vessels.
Geronemus and Storm both want parents to know that early treatment is critical
in achieving the best possible results.
"Treating the skin component is much more effective when the child is younger,"
Geronemus notes. "The skin is a bit thinner and the blood vessels are more accessible
to the laser."
But even adults like Storm can still be helped.
"Hannah will benefit from some very simple, straight forward treatment," Geronemus
says. "It will not be anything like what she has been through before. Her treatment
would take a few seconds, and she would probably need to be treated a few times."
While Storm is considering having new laser surgeries, for many children and
their families it's not an option - it's too expensive.
This is because many insurance companies will not cover procedures to treat
port wine stains. Despite expert medical opinion, insurers still claim the laser
treatments are a cosmetic procedure. Only Minnesota has mandated by state law
that insurers cover port wine stain procedures.
Non-coverage is often a painful injustice for families and the children. One
that only gets more painful as the child approaches school age.
"Of course, you're self conscious," Storm says. "As I got older, I became so
self conscious about my birthmark that I was very hesitant about going to a
pool party, because I didn't want my makeup to rub off."
Geronemus believes this kind of insecurity as well as the endurance of teasing
and strange stares is unnecessary. "If we can treat infants early, then they
may not ever have to deal with the school issues. These treatments offer children
the opportunity to feel very differently about themselves."
Storm also wants to make sure parents understand that port wine stains require
"If your child is born with a port wine stain, they should be seen immediately
by a pediatric dermatologist," Storm urges. "Your pediatrician does not understand
these birthmarks as well as a specialist. Get the correct diagnosis because
with early intervention so much can be done. You can save your child from possibly
losing their eyesight or having seizures - not to mention save them from a lot
For the "Early Show" birthmark information, click
Fore the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation, click
For the Sturge-Weber Foundation, click
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Created: 3/28/2004  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 3/28/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.