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At last I'm turning heads for all the right reasons; THE MIRROR FOLLOWS ONE WOMAN'S YEAR-LONG LASER TREATMENT TO LOSE A BIRTHMARK.

THE woman walking beside me is 27 and beautiful. Chiselled cheekbones, aqua blue eyes and perfect white teeth.

Natalie Hamilton's figure is petite and shapely. She is exquisitely dressed and her hair is meticulously groomed

As she chats away, she is completely oblivious to the passing stares of strangers.

Natalie is used to turning heads ... but never for the right reasons.

When people stopped to stare, they did not see a vivacious brunette. They saw an ugly purple birthmark which spread from her right eye to her lips.

Friends and acquaintances became blind to the blemish. But strangers were far more cruel.

"It was never anything original, but it still hurt," she says.

"The most common remarks were, `Have you been in a fight?' or `Did you pick up the iron instead of the phone?'"

But for the past year, this bubbly young woman has been undergoing laser treatment to remove the port-wine stain which has blighted her complexion since birth.

Month by month, she has watched the marks slowly fade away. Now, miraculously, the blemish that marked her life has gone forever.

But today, after undergoing her sixth and last laser session, her face looks purple and bruised, and Natalie - probably for the last time - is attracting rude, intrusive glances from passers-by.

AS WE approach a Zebra crossing, she stops to help an old lady.

Her gesture immediately attracts attention from the pub terrace opposite. A table of men start staring at her face and muttering under their breath.

"You can see what I have had to put up with," says Natalie, turning her head away.

"Nobody would talk about me that way if I had a big nose. But because I of the birthmark, they think they can say what they like about me.

"I would try not to get upset by it but sometimes I'd snap. I am not an argumentative person and I hate defending myself all the time. But if someone is rude to me, I will answer back."

Natalie was blissfully unaware of her disfigurement as a child.

"I knew it was there, but it never really bothered me," she says, tracing the outline of the birthmark with her fingers.

"My family has always been really cool about it and I was never treated any different to my sisters.

"The name-calling started when I went to school. I was about six when it first happened. These kids asked me if my mum had spilt wine on her belly when she was pregnant.

"I learnt how to cope with it, but I became more sensitive about it when I reached puberty.

"I went to boarding school at 14 and one particular incident remains etched in my memory.

"A friend told me that other girls had been discussing how I could have the mark removed.

"I was so angry. I stormed into their dormitory and shouted at them. I told them they had no right to talk about me behind my back.

"Two of them burst into tears and the rest were dumfounded. They never said a word about it after that.

"It was about that time, I started secretly planning the day I would have the birthmark removed.

"I prayed a cream would be invented which would remove the port-wine stain.

"But that never happened so I started thinking about the alternatives."

Laser treatment became available when Natalie was a teenager.

"I really hoped it was the miracle cure," she says. "But I was worried the treatment would be painful and leave scars worse than the mark itself."

Natalie reflects: "I wouldn't describe myself as vain The mark has never really bothered me as much as people probably think it would.

"But when I moved to the United States to live with my stepmother and father and I went off to university, I wanted to be like all the other girls.

MY ambition was to get work as a TV presenter.

"After a successful stint at radio presenting, I stood a good chance, but my stepmother pointed out that I wouldn't have a hope in hell unless I had the birthmark removed."

After a painful, unsuccessful attempt to remove the birthmark in a US clinic, Natalie waited another five years before she plucked up the courage to try again. "The final straw was a trip to Harrods after I'd moved back to London," she says.

"A security guard stopped me and asked, `Does it still hurt?'

"He was implying I had been hit by someone and his remark really shocked me.

"I have got used to people saying hurtful things, but I did not expect that sort of treatment in Harrods. I was very upset.

"I wrote an angry letter to the management and eventually got a humble apology and flowers.

"But the experience made me realise I was tired of defending myself. That was when I decided to book myself in for treatment at the Lasercare clinic in Harley Street." The clinic used a Pulsed Tuneable Dye Laser to remove Natalie's port-wine stain.

Before each treatment, an anaesthetic cream was applied to the skin. The laser was then used to destroy the excess blood vessels.

"My mum was reluctant for me to go ahead with it. She told me I looked lovely as I was," says Natalie.

BUT my boyfriend Rob knew how much I wanted this done. He came with me to every session.

"I was scared the first time. You put on these huge protective glasses and lie back while the doctor traces the laser over the skin.

"It tingles but it is not painful and I was mazed by the results."

After a few months she was, for the first time, able to hide the birthmark with make-up.

"In total, I had nine laser sessions plus the initial consultation. I think I might go back one more time just for a tidy-up treatment," she says.

The laser causes bruising and swelling so Natalie's treatments were spaced out over a year, each session costing pounds 185.

"Overall, the treatment has cost nearly pounds 2,000 but I think it has been well worth it," she says.

Now, Natalie no longer needs to use heavy foundation on her face. "I still can't quite believe the port-wine stain has gone," she confesses.

"It took ages for the swelling to subside but now there isn't even an outline. The first few times I saw myself in the mirror it felt strange. Now I am getting used to the new me and feel wonderful."

As she moves her hand to her face I spot an engagement ring.

"Rob asked me a few weeks ago," she confides. "I'm looking forward to the `Oohs' and `Aahs' when family and friends see me walk up the aisle.

"I bet you one thing - they won't be looking at my dress."

Not the dress - but Natalie's beautiful, flawless skin.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Kemp, Charlotte
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 2, 1998
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