Blood pressure drug for dangerous birthmarks

FRESNO, Calif.

One baby's hemangioma was suffocating her, until doctors saved her life by using an old drug in a new way.

They're the noises every baby makes, but to Luree Kirkpatrick's parents, first sounds mean everything.

"For her to start smiling and looking up at you and giggling, it was like she came to life for the first time," Luree's mother, Melodie Kirkpatrick, told Ivanhoe.

Luree had been rushed to the ER a few days earlier for problems breathing and eating. Shortly after birth, a hemangioma, or vascular birthmark, started growing on her face and neck.

"A hemangioma is what's considered a tumor," Dale Amanda Tylor, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., told Ivanhoe. "It's not cancer."

Most hemangiomas go away, but scans revealed Luree's was more serious.

"Come to find out, this hemangioma had grown around her trachea and around her aorta," Melodie said. "It was going to kill my child."

Forty percent of her airway was blocked. Melodie and her husband, Paul, were told a tracheotomy might be her only option … until Dr. Tylor suggested trying the blood pressure medication propranolol

"Within 24 hours, she was a new child, and within 2 days, she never had breathing problems ever again, and there were visible changes on the external portion of her hemangioma," Dr. Tylor said.

Propranolol has been used for 50 years to treat high blood pressure. Dr. Tylor says the risks of a baby taking it are small, but include low blood pressure and low blood sugar. For the Kirkpatricks, the drug has been life changing.

"We haven't seen any side effects, and when we've seen what it's done, just in five months," Melodie said. "I mean, it's almost disappeared. It's remarkable."

A new use for an old drug that eases suffering for the tiniest patients.

Dr. Tylor is using this drug off-label for this condition. She says almost 100 percent of children get some sort of result from the propranolol.

Craig Boerner
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
(615) 322-4747

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