Girl nearly strangled by her birthmark
Miracle recovery ... Millie Field is cured of her birthmark and is on the mend
Adorable 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 voice box.
As the birthmark, identified as a hemangioma, continued to grow, Millie needed a tracheostomy just to breathe which left her unable to make a sound.
But now Millie can speak, smile and do everything other toddlers can do thanks to a gamble on a wonder drug which gave her a new lease of life.
Bank worker Michelle, 37, from Rochford, 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 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."
Michelle, who also has a son Ben, 15, had longed for another child with husband Stuart, a fraud investigator, when she eventually fell pregnant with Millie.
Millie came into the world after just an hour and a half of labour and Michelle immediately noticed a bluish mark along her jaw.
Michelle said: "The nurses told me it was just a bruise from the fast delivery and told us it would go away eventually.
"It was almost like a blue beard on her face. I guess we just accepted what the doctors were saying even though we had never seen anything like it on a baby previously."
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 put her in touch with Great Ormond Street Hospital's dermatology unit.
Michelle said: "By this point, Millie was ten days old and her mark was still flat. But it was getting worse and worse all the time and it was very red although it didn't appear to be causing her any medical problems.
"I wasn't even going to ring GOSH because I didn't want to hear another person tell me there was nothing that could be done but eventually I got through to a nurse called Jane.
"She asked me if Millie was having any feeding or breathing problems and at that point, which was a Sunday morning, she was totally fine.
"I sent Jane some photos of Millie and she rang me back on the Monday to say they thought it might be a different type of birthmark and she wanted to see us as soon as possible so she made an appointment for fours days later."
However, the next day Millie suddenly stopped feeding and by the following day she had major breathing problems.
Millie was rushed to Southend Hospital and was transferred to Great Ormond Street the following morning by ambulance.
At just 20 days old, Millie was placed in intensive care suffering from a large hemangioma — a tumour made up of blood vessels — which was growing at a staggering rate and cutting off her air supply.
The tumour was feeding off Millie's blood supply and growing all over her face, neck and windpipe.
Brave Millie spent 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."
Millie's future seemed uncertain until one day Michelle heard about a new drug trial taking place in France.
Doctors there had seen some success in treating hemangiomas with a drug called propanolol, a beta-blocker used to treat hypertension and heart conditions.
Medics 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: "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."
Eventually the doctors relented and while under strict supervision Millie was given the drug 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.
In April 2010 she underwent a complicated surgery to rebuild her airway using a piece of rib cartilage. And after two weeks in hospital she 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."