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MARK OF DISTINCTION; TEEN GIRL DECIDES NOT TO CONCEAL FACIAL BIRTHMARK.

Byline: Jin Whang and Sherry Joe Crosby Daily News Staff Writers

Melissa Perea is like most teen-age girls: gregarious, into fashion, dreading school and worrying about boys.

But unlike most of her peers, the 16-year-old was born with a port wine stain, a condition that left a splotch on the left side of her face. And unlike many with port wine stains, Melissa doesn't cover it with makeup and has chosen not to have it removed.

``I get a couple of stares, and people might ask, but it doesn't bother me,'' said the Van Nuys teen-ager, who recently started her junior year at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.

``I don't think of it as a problem. I think of it as a special thing that makes me unique,'' she said.

Her self-acceptance makes her stand out in the crowd, not only among her peers at Kaiser Permanente Craniofacial Clinic's first ``Back-to-School Blowout,'' a program designed for returning high school and college patients, but also among her peers at school.

``Teens are very self-conscious of their appearance,'' said Andrew Wexler, a plastic surgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Craniofacial Clinic. ``They're at a time in their life where they're going through a tremendous amount of bodily changes. They're interested in the opposite sex, they're very concerned with their appearance, and for a child growing up with a facial deformity, that can be very difficult.''

That's where the clinic's back-to-school program comes in. The program, held last month at Kaiser's West Los Angeles facility, included a discussion about handling the many challenges of facial disorders, from growing up to dating.

The clinic, which was founded in 1972, serves nearly 1,000 patients from all over Southern California who have a deformity of the skull or face caused by birth defect, trauma or disease.

Melissa's favorite part of the daylong program was the fashion clinic, in which stylists for celebrities volunteered to introduce the latest looks to the participants. Makeup artists provided demonstrations on how to camouflage blemishes. But Melissa chose to indulge only in a new outfit and a salon haircut.

Typically reddish or violet in color, port wine stains occur when there is a proliferation of capillaries in one area; the condition causes the area to become significantly darker than the person's complexion. Most facial port wine stains are present at birth and can be greatly improved with plastic surgery, cosmetics or laser treatments.

Some people with the condition also experience excessive growth of other tissue in the stained area because of the extra supply of blood. In Melissa's case, it has increased the amount of bone growth in her jaw, leaving her face asymmetrical.

But neither malformation fazes Melissa anymore.

She recalls when she considered surgically removing the birthmark two years ago. She decided not to go through with the painful treatment and recovery after her friends told her that removing the stain meant getting rid of a part of her. She decided to keep the stain.

Wexler said the teen is unlike most of his patients.

``You can see the beauty radiating from inside,'' Wexler said. ``She puts it together so well, she is able to radiate her own inner personality and charm. She's beautiful despite her facial differences. That's what I've always admired about Melissa.

``None of us have perfect, creamy skin - except for a few cover models,'' Wexler added. ``You can look at a teen-ager who's got a pimple on his nose, and it kills his whole week, or you can look at someone like Melissa ... a very secure, wonderful person.''

For now, she is preparing for a bone reconstructive surgery scheduled for late October that can reduce her overgrown jawbone.

``I'm ready for it,'' she says of the surgery that will prevent her from attending school for up to six weeks.

``She's been remarkable,'' says Karen Perea, Melissa's stepmother. ``She's taught us all a lesson that she's made it a goal to focus on the beauty from within. That's more than I was taught when I was growing up.''

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

PHOTO (1--Cover--Color) Skin Deep

At an age when appearance is everything, Melissa Perea radiates beauty from within. Page 3.

Andy Holzman/Daily News

(2) Although she is preparing to undergo bone reconstruction surgery on her jaw, Melissa Perea, 16, is choosing not to have her port wine stain removed.

(3) Perea, second from right, with friend Mike Flores and other classmates at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, says she thinks of her port wine stain as ``a special thing that makes me unique.''

David R. Crane/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 14, 1998
Words:768
Previous Article:SOSA TIES MCGWIRE.
Next Article:PORT WINE STAIN FACTS.


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