NEW ORLEANS -- It's one of the first questions new parents ask in the delivery room, "Is my baby healthy?"
But the parents in our story knew something was wrong, and they now credit a team of local doctors with making their babies normal.
When little Makenzi of St. Bernard Parish was born, something was wrong.
"She had them inside her body as well as out. She had them in her brain, in her large and small intestines, around her ears, her airway, her right leg over here, all (over) her back. She looked like she had third degree burns on her. I still cry when I see the pictures," said Makenzi's mother, Philomene Lopez.
Over in Lake Charles, another mother had fear over the health of her child, Cohen, as well.
"We got scared because it was on his face, which could affect his vision or his ear or his throat, because it was right here on the side," Ashley Thompson said about her son Cohen.
What little Cohen and Makenzi had are called hemangiomas. They are not birthmarks, moles or pigment stains. They are overgrown, benign, abnormal blood vessels.
"There's a whole spectrum of conditions and most of these don't have a defined cause. They're kind of just, like, things that develop, just kind of happenstance. It's not something that the parents did or parents should have done. It's not from a medicine. It's not normally there, is probably some genetic factors behind it, but not something that's normally passed on. It's more like maybe a genetic mutation that occurred during the development of the child," explained board certified dermatologist Dr. Jeffrey Poole, who is the director of pediatric dermatology at Children's Hospital and an assistant clinical professor at LSUHSC and Tulane. He has a private practice in Metairie.
But here's the problem. Port wine stains, strawberry birthmarks and hemangiomas are not always a cosmetic health issue. They can be dangerous.
"They can cause visual loss. They can cause severe cosmetic deformity. They can cause inability to eat and they can even cause respiratory distress and threaten your life," said Dr. Lawrence Simon, an LSUHSC otolaryngologist and surgeon.
Think about the damage internal ones can do in your brain, intestines, throat, ears and eyes. And because they can grow fast, early diagnosis and treatment are critical. And because they can grow anywhere, all types of pediatric specialists are needed.
So in 2005, some doctors at Children's Hospital started the Vascular Anomaly Center, specializing in difficult, rare or unusual vascular conditions. This way parents can go to one place to get continuity of treatment.
"At the time here in Louisiana, many of these patients were dispersed to many places, to Houston and Arkansas, to get treatments of very complex vascular deformities. And we thought, well, why not try to keep them all here?" said Dr. Ernest Chiu, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with appoints at Tulane and LSUHSC.
Standard treatment has been steroids and surgery, but both pose some long-term side effects. Then some doctors noticed a good side effect of a medicine used to treat high blood pressure and calm public speaking anxiety. It's called Propranolol. And it causes the lesions to dramatically shrink.
"We were really the first center in the area to be using this, and it's been really miraculous. We see dramatic results, very rapid. It's much safer than steroids," said Dr. Poole.
"Being able to offer a very low side effect, very low risk medication, at a very low dose to families and save a lot of these children some of the more morbid treatments. And it's really been revolutionary and it's just been wonderful," added Dr. Simon.
Makenzi and Cohen are having success.
"It is very hard to look back on pictures. I actually don't even have any on my phone," said Thompson.
"The biggest part for me was the fact that she can walk, because we didn't think that she was going to be able to do that at all," said Lopez through tears.
Now doctors hope what's remaining of the hemangiomas will fade with age. If not, dermatology lasers can help.
Children's Hospital has had patients come to the center from as far away as Africa.
Many of these conditions can cause most of their damage in the first three or four months of life.