Today and tomorrow on CBS' The Early Show, cohost Hannah Storm anchors a very personal story. For the first time on camera, she reveals a facial birthmark she's hidden under makeup for decades. The birthmark, known as a port wine stain, led to several painful childhood operations. These included tattooing — which left "a white splotch over red" — dermabrasion and laser surgery. Here, Storm shares her struggle with TV Guide Online.
TV Guide Online: Why are you talking about your birthmark?
Hannah Storm: I mentioned I had a birthmark in a magazine piece, and I was contacted by the Sturge-Weber Foundation. They said they would appreciate my bringing attention to the fact there are medical conditions associated with birthmarks. I had no idea! One in 10 kids in the United States is born with a birthmark — and even pediatricians don't understand there are associated medical conditions.
TVGO: What kind of conditions?
Storm: If it's a port wine stain like mine, around the eye or the forehead, a seizure disorder, calcium in the brain and glaucoma [could be indicated]. Recently, I was told by a laser surgeon that this can get worse with age. The birthmarks can thicken and start bleeding and ulcerate. Then, they're almost impossible to treat. So I'm going to probably have laser surgery. From a cosmetic point of view, it doesn't really bother me, but should it get worse, it could be a real professional issue.
TVGO: It's a good thing you went for the checkup.
Storm: I was so ignorant. I understood the psychological issues acutely, but I didn't understand the medical issues. It's the recommendation of doctors now that if you have a child born with a birthmark, especially a port wine stain — and it's still there after several weeks — they [should] get checked by a dermatologist. And if it's on the face, an ophthalmologist or even a neurologist. [Former Russian President] Mikhail Gorbachev is probably the most-well-known person with a port wine stain.
TVGO: People joked he had a map of Italy on his forehead.
Storm: That's the genesis of self-esteem issues which can be significant. I still have people ask me about it on a daily basis when I'm not wearing makeup. At this point of my life, I'm a happily married mother of three, and I feel confident about myself. But it's easier to put the makeup on because people won't say, "Oh, my gosh, what happened to you?" [My birthmark] looks like a black eye, like someone socked me. I'm showing this because I want people who see someone on the street to know what this is and not to make a comment. Especially not to tease a child.
TVGO: How was your childhood?
Storm: My parents were so great about making me feel good about myself. My mom told me, "That's where you got kissed by an angel." When I was in ninth grade, I was in a musical and I put on makeup for the first time, and the boys treated me completely differently. They spoke to me! But it was embarrassing. I didn't want to swim because my makeup would wash off.
TVGO: Was accepting you without makeup a litmus test for your husband?
Storm: It was sort of a litmus test. My husband [NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks] has been the best. He always said, "Don't have surgery. I love you the way you are."
TVGO: Is this hereditary?
Storm: Some say it runs in families. My cousin had a hemangioma, one daughter was born with Mongolian spots, another with a stork's bite. They're all forms of birthmarks. Beth Israel Hospital in New York is opening a big center in the spring and there's going to be more research done on birthmarks.
TVGO: Tell us more on how Early Show will cover this.
Storm: On the first day, we follow a little girl into laser surgery. The second day, we'll have a makeup artist and a top surgeon. I want parents to know this is something you have to look into and people walking around with port wine stains to see how far the surgery has come. Insurance companies say it's cosmetic. It is not. It is medical and psychological.