Paul and Rebecca Callaghan were ecstatic to find out they were having a baby. The couple were living in Leigh, Lancashire, and anxiously awaited the arrival of their baby girl, Matilda Callaghan.
Rebecca’s pregnancy had been difficult, and she had too much fluid in her amniotic sac. As a result, medical professionals decided to deliver the baby a few weeks early. In October of 2010, Matilda Callaghan made her way into the world weighing 5 pounds and 5 ounces. Although the pregnancy had been difficult, things appeared to have gone according to plan.
However, doctors noticed something peculiar, the baby was covered in a dark purple spot, from her face down the side of her body. Initially, they believed it to be a bruise and felt there was no cause for concern. Unexpected by the new parents, doctors told the family 2 hours later, the spots on Matilda Callaghan were actually a birthmark.
Learning of Matilda Callaghan’s Conditions
Although this was out of the ordinary, it wasn’t Matilda’s biggest roadblock. She had 2 holes in her heart and so was whisked away from Wigan Hospital to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. Paul said in an interview: “We couldn’t travel with her as she was so ill. As we stood watching her being taken away, we didn’t know if we were going to see her again. We’d been so excited at our baby’s arrival, now within a matter of hours we didn’t know whether we would even see her alive again.“
Fortunately, baby Matilda Callaghan made it through her first surgery. Despite pulling through, it soon became apparent things wouldn’t get any easier for the baby. After a couple weeks, she was diagnosed with Sturge Weber Syndrome, a rare vascular and neurological condition, in which blood vessels grow too much. This causes growths to form, referred to as, angiomas. These growths are red/purple in color and are similar in appearance to Matilda’s “polka dots”.
Sturge Weber wasn’t the Only Hurdle
Although most people with the condition have been known to go about leading typical lives, the condition is not without its challenges. In extreme cases, the disorder can cause paralysis, seizures, and glaucoma. Paul explained that his daughter, Matilda Callaghan struggles her with eyesight and doctors don’t know if she’ll ever be able to see properly.
At 2 months old, Matilda underwent another surgery to repair the 2 holes in her heart. “We were terrified when she was wheeled down for the surgery – even though she was two months old – she still looked so small to be having such major surgery. Eventually the surgeon came up to see us and told us the surgery had been successful.” Said Paul.
Subjected to Judgement from Others
Matilda Callaghan also has monthly laser treatments to remove the “spotted” birthmark. With continual treatments, medical experts believe that it could around 16 years for Matilda’s birthmark to fade. Initially, the spots are darker and more noticeable after her appointments but do fade. Paul explained, “She has treatment every couple of months, and the laser does make it look redder and angrier, and her face is covered with blobs afterwards, which then gradually fade away again. We do get people staring at Matilda when she goes out – especially after she’s had the laser treatment – which is hurtful.”
He heartbreakingly continued, “We have even had people accusing us of leaving her to near the radiator, and causing her face to go red. People think we are the bad parents – that we have somehow caused Matilda to look like she does. They just see what is in front of them and jump to hurtful conclusions. I wish they could see past the birthmark and see what a wonderful little angel she is.”
Cause for Celebration
During an interview in August of 2013, Paul shared they would, “be celebrating her third birthday.” Explaining, “it will be such a celebration for us. When she was born, we didn’t even know whether she would survive a few hours.” He gratefully gushed, “But she’s proved everyone wrong. She was a fighter from the moment she arrived in the world, and she’s carried on fighting ever since. She’s our little miracle.”
Matilda Callaghan was also unable to walk and required a special walking frame. Its purpose is to help support her body and movement. Her dad said that she was able to take a few steps. It’s now been over a decade since the birth of Matilda Callaghan
. In 2019, her family started a funding page to help cover the cost of a new wheelchair because she’d outgrown the old one. However, it has since been closed, and there is little known to date about Matilda’s current condition. We hope she is happy and thriving. Additionally, we hope that she’s been able to live life, free of ridicule from others and her peers.
- “Polka dot princess” Matilda has touched the hearts of thousands.” Liverpool Echo. Cristina Criddle. February 5, 2016.
- “Toddler Matilda Callaghan, 2, treats severe birthmark with laser therapy.” Daily Mail Lucy Laing. August 3, 2013.
- “Sturge-Weber Syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
- “Sturge Weber Syndrome.” National Organization for Rare Disorders. 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2014, 2017, 2021.