Luna Tavares-Fenner from Florida became famous on Instagram for her Batman birthmark. Thanks to her mother sharing her story, she has now finally begun the process of having it removed. Just wait until you see what the now two-year-old looks like without it!
The Little Girl Born With The Batman Birthmark
When Carol Fenner was pregnant with Luna, everything seemed perfectly normal. All of her ultrasounds and scans showed that there was no reason to think that her little girl would be born differently. When she gave birth, however, she and her husband had a big shock. Luna had a birthmark that covered part of her forehead, nose, eyelids, and down onto her cheeks. It looked like she was wearing, well, a batman mask. (1)
“I’m used to it now, but then I was just shocked,” Carol said.
The giant batman mask-shaped birthmark is actually a skin condition called Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus. (2)
What Is Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus?
Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus (GCMN) is more or less a mole that you are born with. In the case of GCMN, that mole is, well, giant. The skin is very dark in color, raised, and usually has a different texture than regular skin. They are formed in utero when the pigment-producing cells group together in one place instead of evenly dispersing throughout the skin.
GCMN occurs in about one in every 20,000 births. They begin growing anywhere between five and 24 weeks gestation, and the earlier they begin the larger they will be. They can become both smaller or larger over time. Often with the giant type, they tend to only get bigger.
Most congenital nevi (plural of nevus) are completely harmless. They do have a higher risk of becoming cancerous, especially the giant ones. While removing it doesn’t completely decrease the child’s slightly elevated cancer risk, it can help at least a little bit.
“Besides looking unusual, they pose a risk of malignant degeneration. The skin cells in those areas are abnormal and can turn into a malignant melanoma, which is a very lethal type of skin cancer,” said Dr. Anthony Wolfe, a pediatric plastic surgeon with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
Treatment options for GCMN vary depending on the size of the nevus and the age of the child. The options include:
- Dermabrasion: This treatment uses a wire brush or diamond wheel to remove layers of skin. While it won’t completely remove a congenital nevus, it can lighten its appearance. However, it can also leave scars. It is most effective when done in the first six weeks of life.
- Skin curettage: This involves scraping away the top layers of skin. It is also best done in the first six weeks of life
- Tangential excision: The top layers of skin are removed using a blade.
- Like other options, it won’t remove the nevus completely, and it may leave scarring. However, it can make the nevus less noticeable.
- Chemical peels: These may help to improve the appearance of lighter-colored nevi. Phenol and trichloroacetic acid are common chemicals used in peels.
Little Luna didn’t seem to have many great options in the United States. Her parents weren’t sure what to do. They wanted to remove it before she began school so kids wouldn’t tease her.
“We saw a lot of doctors. We went to Boston, Chicago and New York trying to find a better result,” Carol said.
That’s when Carol started sharing Luna’s story on Instagram.
Instagram Came Through
Very quickly, the account amassed many followers and attention. One day, a doctor from Russia sent them a direct message on the platform. The doctor was Pavel Popov, a laser and cancer specialist who has 20 years of experience in his field and has performed more than 1000 surgeries. He told them that they have a procedure in Russia that is relatively new and not yet available in the United States called photodynamic therapy. The number of surgeries and amount of time to complete them would be half of anything they would find at home. (3)
The couple decided they wanted to go for it. The next problem to solve, however, was the money. Each surgery was going to be quite expensive. On top of that was the cost of flying Luna and her mom to Russia to have them done. The family hosted a fundraising event, as well as launched a GoFundMe campaign. They have raised nearly $70,000, with a goal of reaching $150,000. Still, the amount they have raised so far was enough for them to begin the process.
It has been a long couple of years for Luna and her family. Luna has had many surgeries, many of which have left her in full-face bandages. Still, the little girl continues to grow into her spunky, happy self. Dr. Popov has removed the mark entirely from now two-year-old Luna’s face.
“Luna has already started speaking and she says herself: ‘My black spot has gone. I am a princess’,” he said.
With those surgeries done, Carol and Luna will travel back to the United States. They are waiting for the last of Luna’s procedures to heal. In the New Year, Luna will undergo cosmetic surgery to finalize the entire treatment.
If you want to support this family and the costs of all of Luna’s surgeries and recovery, you can still donate to the GoFundMe campaign.