Working student Jenny Marie Gumata (22) from Talisay City, Philippines, developed swollen and bleeding lips when her port-wine stain was misdiagnosed as a harmless birthmark, as seen in photographs from her childhood.
A doctor told Jenny’s mum the port wine stain would either become permanent or vanish naturally when she reached seven years old.
Because of this, Jenny did not receive treatment until she was 13 after suffering from pain, bleeding, and extreme swelling in her lips and gums.
Other children also mocked her appearance, but Jenny says her parents and Christian faith got her through this tough time.
“The years I spent in primary school were a challenging and stressful time for me,” she said.
“At that age, kids are plain cruel.
“Yes, I may have been the target of bullying, which was traumatising, but my parents’ guidance, their affection and encouragement, served as a beacon for me to realise my value despite having a port-wine stain birthmark.”
The late onset of her treatment means Jenny’s lips will remain swollen unless she has surgery, but fortunately, she is now experiencing less bleeding and is proud of her “battle scars”.
“Since we reside in a rural area, there aren’t many resources or sources of information concerning my disease,” she said.
“When I reach seven years old, the birthmark will either vanish or remain there permanently, according to my mother’s account of the doctor’s diagnosis.
“Because I did not start receiving treatments until I was 13 years old, the misdiagnosis had a profound impact on my current facial features.
“My lips were already swollen and my birthmark was changing from its original light purple tint to a dark purple shade.
“Therefore, my parents only made the decision to seek medical care outside of our region in 2014 after I started complaining about frequent bleeding in my lips and gums.
“Every six weeks, my mother and I had to fly to Manila for my laser treatments.
“My birthmark’s redness was lessened, my lips’ size also reduced slightly, and the bleeding was undoubtedly minimized.
“The laser may have left my face with battle scars, but deep down, I acquired so much knowledge about my condition that I now can fully accept and embrace it wholeheartedly.”
Three in 1,000 babies are born with a port-wine stain and it commonly affects the face; Jenny stresses it’s not a harmless mark but a disease with serious health implications.
In infants and young children, port-wine stains are red and flat, according to birthmark.org.
They darken progressively to purple and, by adult age, often become raised as the blood vessels swell.
Over time, the affected blood vessels become susceptible to spontaneous bleeding or haemorrhage after minor bumps and grazes.
In 2020, Jenny discovered the Birthmark Social online and, as a keen photographer, began uploading photos of herself on social media to spread her message of body positivity.
“The fear that cyberbullying attacks may take place in my accounts is the worst part of posting on social media,” she said.
“By God’s Grace, though, I haven’t encountered any particularly distressing remarks that may have affected my mental health throughout the years.
“The majority of them are only making comments out of curiosity about what happened to my face.
“Overall, my social media sharing journey was an enjoyable experience.
“The encouraging comments I got made me feel blessed that I could serve as an inspiration to those who are still struggling with acceptance.
“Despite having unique facial features, we can dress in whatever we choose, slay, and express every aspect of ourselves in public.
“And I think that showing my face to the public on social media and not hiding it has a significant impact on the birthmark community in general.”
Jenny answers questions from lots of followers and is proud to have helped people from all corners of the world to overcome their insecurities.
“I get a lot of lovely comments about how comfortable I am publishing photos and being seen in public,” she said.
“They would also question whether it hurts or if it’s effective after seeing my posts about my laser treatments.
“I cherish that people can see that I am not ashamed to be visible, and their encouraging words is what keeps me going with this journey.”