An inspiring mother has told how a cruel Florida woman in church branding her baby a ‘monster’ led her to leave the United States for Russia in search of a pioneering treatment to cure the girl’s large ‘Batman mask’ birthmark.
Carol Fenner, 36, flew half way around the world for the 18-month-long medical procedure she hopes will help her daughter Luna, who was born with congenital melanocytic naevus, a skin condition that produces abnormally dark blemishes.
DailyMail.com exclusively secured access to the treatment in Russia, which Fenner believes will gradually remove the intrusive black birthmark without leaving any ‘Frankenstein scars’ that American doctors had warned her about.
Carol arrived with Luna, seven months, in September and already sees positive results after two treatment sessions, spearheaded by Russian surgeon Dr Pavel Popov at his photodynamic therapy clinic in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
The second treatment using specially targeted ‘laser’ treatment tackled the black around Luna’s eyes.
‘There is no nevus at all where he did it,’ said Carol proudly. Now I’m 100 percent confident and sure it will work. I’m in the right place and right country, (and with the) right doctor.’
Carol Fenner flew with her seven-month-old daughter Luna (pictured) from Florida to Russia in September to have the baby’s ‘Batman mask’ birthmark treated. Luna was born with congenital melanocytic naevus, a skin condition that produces abnormally dark blemishes, usually across the face. Pictured: Luna after a treatment to remove the birthmark from around her eyes
The 36-year-old Brazilian native gave DailyMail.com exclusive access to Luna’s treatment, which she hopes will remove the birthmark without scars
Carol said she already sees positive results after two treatment sessions, saying: ‘There is no nevus at all where he did it. Now I’m 100 percent confident and sure it will work. I’m in the right place and right country, (and with the) right doctor’
The treatment is spearheaded by Russian surgeon Dr Pavel Popov (pictured with Luna) at his clinic in Krasnodar, Russia
Carol and her husband Tiaga Tavares, 32, had tried everything to find affordable treatment in the United States, but was told it would cost almost $500,000 – an unaffordable sum – and wouldn’t be covered by insurance.
In addition to the extraordinary cost, the procedure would leave permanent scars on Luna’s face.
Carol, who is from Brazil and moved to Florida on a green card where she wed her second husband after a childless first marriage, said Luna was her ‘miracle’ baby because of her struggles to get pregnant.
‘I went to Boston, Chicago, and New York trying to find an answer for her,’ Carol said.
‘Actually, I wasn’t sure about surgeries but I wanted to find the best doctor.’
But a heartless comment from a mother at church in Pompano Beach, Florida, led Carol to her decision to seek urgent medical help for Luna.
‘We went to the church and the woman next to us said to her daughter to not look at Luna [because] she is a monster,’ she said. ‘That day I decided I would go through with the surgeries.’
Carol said amid her hunt for a medical solution, Dr Popov called her, saying: ‘We started to talk about Luna. He saw her on internet somehow.’
Dr Popov showed her results from his former patients and Carol weighed up the pros and cons of staying in the US or moving for an extended period to Russia.
Carol said she spoke to her husband Tiaga and her family to make the choice between ‘one-and-a-half years of procedures in Russia, against four years in surgeries, cutting all over her face, in the US.
The American treatment could have meant up to 80 operations and doctors would also put in balloons to expand Luna’s skin – which would be ‘so aggressive’, Carol said.
Carol and her husband Tiaga Tavares, 32, had tried everything to find affordable treatment in the United States, but was told it would cost almost $500,000 – an unaffordable sum – and wouldn’t be covered by insurance
The US treatment could have meant up to 80 operations and doctors would also put in balloons to expand Luna’s skin – which would be ‘so aggressive’, Carol said
WHAT IS A CONGENITAL MELANOCYTIC NAEVUS?
Around one per cent of babies are born with a CMN. However, they are often much smaller. In some cases, they can be hairy.
CMNs are sometimes called ‘brown birthmarks’ by medics. They get bigger as children age.
They don’t usually cause any complications but they can be itchy. There is a slight risk of melanoma, thought people with bigger CMNs face the highest risk – but it is still low.
Dr Adil Sheraz, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, told MailOnline: ‘The word melanocytic refers to being composed of melanocytes – these are cells that produce pigment or colour.
‘A naevus is another word for a mole. A mole that is present form birth is known as a congenital melanocytic naevus (or birthmark).’
Treatment is usually surgery to remove the blemish.
Full-thickness grafts may be required for large growths.
If surgery is not possible due to the size, location or thickness of the blemish, laser therapy may help to reduce pigmentation and make it less hairy.
Dermabrasion may also be used. This involves resurfacing the skin so it grows back smoother.
Carol said: ‘I decided to come mostly [to Russia] because I was comparing the procedures here and there.
‘In the States, after few years of surgery the so called Frankenstein scars will remain on the face.
‘I didn’t want to do that to Luna.
‘The doctor told me it was something similar to laser but not laser actually, with less marks possible.
‘I decided to give it a shot.’
Carol said she will travel back to the US for Christmas but then return to Russia.
She admitted the separation from her husband is painful, saying: ‘He is so sad with this situation. He cries every day.’
Tiaga, who works as a construction worker, said he fears his daughter ‘will forget me’.
Carol added: ‘I’m trying to be strong for our family but I’m so worried about him.’
Dr Popov is a cancer specialist who has been ‘working in photodynamic therapy for over 20 years’.
Luna is clear of cancer but the technique can also be used for patients with her condition, known as melanocytic nevus.
He said: ‘I’ve been working in photodynamic therapy for over 20 years.
‘It is an innovative way to treat oncological diseases with the use of laser radiation.
‘The technology itself involves administering photosensitizer in the patients’s body.
‘This substance is a target for laser radiation, and cancer cells die in interaction between this substance and laser radiation.
‘Photodynamic therapy can be used in different modes and it can be used to treat a wide range of illnesses/diseases, including giant melanocytic nevus.’
Dr Popov took the initiative to contact Carol after seeing a story about Luna in his news feed.
Carol said she will travel back to the US for Christmas but then return to Russia. She admitted the separation from her husband is painful, saying: ‘He is so sad with this situation. He cries every day’
Tiaga, who works as a construction worker, said he fears his daughter ‘will forget me’. Carol added: ‘I’m trying to be strong for our family but I’m so worried about him’
‘She has this very giant melanocytic nevus that spreads across most of her face including eye lids,’ he said.
‘It is a functionally important zone. We contacted her mom.
‘She looked at results of our work, was impressed with them and arrived for treatment.
‘We finished two stages of treatment already. Part of the girl’s forehead and eyelash zone have been treated.
‘Everything is going as planned, she heals well and feels well too.
‘She wasn’t given either analgesics [painkillers] nor antibiotics in the post surgery period.’
He promised: ‘We are expecting to get a good cosmetic result and to get rid of her disease entirely.’
After stories about Luna’s treatment, Dr Popov has had a flurry of inquiries from people with similar conditions in Western countries.
The medic said the traditional way of treating the condition – which is used in the United States, is by ‘inserting silicon expanders under the skin that slowly fill with liquid and expand the skin with nevus being cut after the skin that was expanded is used to cover the cut area.’
But Dr Popov’s ‘technology is non-invasive, there is no blood’ and the ’tissues heal naturally.’
The technology ‘allows a good functional and cosmetic result,’ he said.
Carol said she had expected Russian people to be ‘kind of cold’ but found instead that they ‘amazing’ in how she and Luna have been welcomed
Luna is clear of cancer but the technique can also be used for patients with her condition, known as melanocytic nevus
Still the financial costs are great with each of eight treatments costing $25,000. Carol is using GoFundMe to raise the cash – at least $140,000 – will be needed.
She still faces the cruelest comments about her baby – including on Instagram which is used to raise the funds.
Recently someone told her on Instagram that Luna ‘is terrible and you should kill her’, she said.
‘So for me Instagram was good and bad at the same time.’
‘One day I feel great and the other day I was crying nonstop.’
But Carol is determined to cure Luna because of the threat of cancer if the mark is not removed – and the bullying her daughter would face.
She had expected Russian people to be ‘kind of cold’ but found instead that they ‘amazing’ in how she and Luna have been welcomed.
She has an apartment and recently cooked for some Russian visitors from the clinic – Brazilian stroganoff.
‘I have not tried Russian food yet,’ she explained.
‘Next Monday I m going to try borsch and pelmeni.
‘I didn’t have time – I’m not going out, Luna cannot get any bacteria because of her surgeries.
‘I’m not going our to restaurants. I am making food at home , some Brazilian food.’