For as long as he could remember, Kevin Buell had a red blotch on the left side of his face. It wasn’t painful, and it didn’t affect his education or career as a purchasing manager, but the 30-year-old Oshkosh, Wisconsin, native always got a fair share of stares out in public.
“You could see it from a ways away,” Kevin said. “It was bright red, so I just sort of stuck out when walking around.”
Kevin was born with a rare skin capillary malformation called nevus flammeus, or more commonly known as a port-wine stain. It is caused by permanently enlarged blood vessels and is estimated to occur in every three children per 1,000 live births. If left untreated, this birthmark can become bumpy and cause bleeding in adulthood as it worsens over time.
Kevin’s parents sought treatment for him shortly after birth, but technology and treatment options were limited at that time. Today, the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network has dedicated staff and the proper technology to lighten port-wine stains and lessen the stares that they come with.
Seeking Port-Wine Stain Treatment
Following an appointment with his primary care physician, who mentioned and encouraged new port-wine stain treatment options, Kevin got online to do some research. He came across the Froedtert & MCW FORME Aesthetic and Vein Center, a multispecialty center that provides options for a variety of skin- and vascular-related conditions. Specifically, he took note of the laser treatment for port-wine stains, which is one of many skin concerns that can be corrected via laser at the FORME Aesthetic and Vein Center.
“I knew that Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin was one of the more respected health networks not only in the state, but also in the country,” Kevin said. “So I talked with my parents and we decided that I should set up a consultation meeting with the team at FORME.”
Initial Consultation and Laser Treatment Appointments
During his consultation, Kevin met with Edit Olasz Harken, MD, PhD. Dr. Olasz Harken examined Kevin and knew that FORME had the right laser to treat his port-wine stain, the VBeam pulsed dye laser.
“The VBeam pulsed dye laser specifically targets the red blood cells and vessels in the port-wine stain,” Dr. Olasz Harken said. “The laser’s energy, the photon, is preferentially absorbed in the vessels and is converted to heat, which in turn destroys the vessels. The beauty of this specific laser is that it only damages the vessels and not the surrounding tissue. By repeating treatments that destroy the vessels, the port-wine stain becomes lighter over time.”
After hearing that recommendation and explanation, along with knowing that insurance would cover these medical treatments, Kevin decided to go forward with treatment. At each appointment, he would first get his picture taken to track progress between visits. He then would lie in a chair similar to one found at a dentist’s office and receive the laser treatment by Dr. Olasz Harken. The treatment requires expert evaluation and specific laser settings during each appointment depending on the port-wine stain’s level of improvement.
Is Pulsed Dye Laser Treatment Painful?
“The laser feels like a quick pinch, or a shot with a rubber band,” Kevin said. “After the procedure, it feels like sunburn a bit while it’s bruised. But after a few days or a week, all pain is gone.”
Each laser treatment can cause minor swelling and bruising lasting four to five days, but this is necessary for the skin to clear. As the affected skin heals, it simultaneously lightens the port-wine stain. Laser treatment appointments must be spaced out every four to six weeks to allow proper healing time, and treatments are usually halted in the summer due to tan skin’s interference with the laser’s efficacy.
“For conditions like rosacea or telangiectasia on the face, the treatment only causes minor redness,” Dr. Olasz Harken said. “But for port-wine stains, the laser treatment setting is purpuric, meaning that it causes bruising. So the patient has a bit of ‘down time’ after each session. However, the skin does get better after each treatment, as the laser destroys more vessels that are not supposed to be there.”
Kevin had 14 treatments in total, driving from Oshkosh to Milwaukee for each one. His port-wine stain has lightened significantly, especially when compared to its appearance at his consultation. He is no longer getting those stares he once received, giving him a nice confidence boost while out in public. Based on the results and positive experience he had, he would recommend the FORME Aesthetic and Vein Center to anybody seeking skin treatment.
“It is amazing to see the before and after pictures,” Kevin said. “I was willing to drive that distance to get care from the Froedtert & MCW health network. Everybody from the front receptionist, to the people taking the pictures, to Dr. Olasz Harken — they were always upbeat. When I was at FORME, I felt like a person instead of just a patient.”
The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin FORME Aesthetic and Vein Center is a multispecialty center offering a comprehensive approach to face, body, skin and vein care. The team includes a multidisciplinary team of board-certified physicians, clinical nurse specialists and clinical estheticians. Through their breadth of experience and expertise, they offer a complete range of options to meet your individual goals.