Donated hair for prosthetic hairpieces helps kids regain confidence
By Claudia Kousoulas
We have such a fraught relationship with our hair. It’s too thick or too thin, too straight or too curly, too dark or too light. But just imagine if it wasn’t there at all. When Madonna Coffman was 20 years old, she didn’t have to imagine. She developed alopecia and lost her hair.
It eventually grew back, but her daughter experienced the same problem when she was only four. Her daughter’s ordeal motivated Coffman to work with Locks of Love, a group that gives disadvantaged children prosthetic hairpieces. The hair helps to build their confidence to face the world and their future.
Locks of Love Communications Director Lauren Kukkamaa has heard lots of wonderful stories from recipients. She reports that “most return to playing sports, swimming, and attending summer camps because they feel confident with their hairpieces on.”
Locks of Love donates hairpieces that are vacuum-fitted. The prostheses are custom-made and won’t fall off. Most hairpieces, notes Kukkamaa, require tape or glue, which can irritate a child’s sensitive skin. With these specialized hairpieces, “they can swim, play sports, and not worry about anyone else being able to pull it off.”
Making custom hairpieces, though, can prove expensive. Ponytails often retail for $3,500 to $6,000–so donated hair that might otherwise be swept into the garbage can have tremendous meaning to a child who needs it.
Donating hair through the Locks of Love program is easy, rewarding and even fun.
Alison Goradia has been a hematology/oncology nurse at Washington, D.C.’s Children’s National Medical Center for only a year, but has already seen the impact that a Locks of Love hair donation can have. “It helps the kids feel a bit more normal,” she says, “especially for pre-teens and teens, when looks are everything.”
As soon as she came to the hospital, Goradia noticed how many kids could use a hairpiece. “You see all those cute little bald heads running around, and then see how you can help.”
She heard about the Locks of Love program from her sister and decided that donating her own hair could help kids like those she sees every day at work. Several nurses on the floor, and staff throughout the hospital, are also donating.
“Everyone tells you how exciting it is, and when you work as a team, it’s fun,” she says. Goradia has been growing her hair for about six months and has almost reached the 12 inches needed for a 10-inch ponytail, the minimum requirement for a donation. She admits the long hair has been a bit uncomfortable during the summer months and can’t wait for it to reach the requisite length.
“It’s been pulled back all day, every day,” she says. “But really, this is nothing,”
Alison has a friend who will cut it for her, seal it up, and ship it to Locks of Love, where the hair is treated to return it to its natural color. The donated hair is then sorted by color and texture to be remade into hairpieces.
Many area salons work with Locks of Love to make donating even easier. Fantastic Sam’s chain of salons has partnered with the group for three years and has cut over 6,000 ponytails.
Kathy Miller, the manager at the Annapolis Fantastic Sam’s, says they’ll do a Locks of Love cut for free and that cut day can be a big deal.
Cindy Phipps at Glow Salon and Day Spa in Annapolis agrees that for some clients the cut can be a little bit traumatic. “We have a cafe here,” she says “and sometimes clients have a glass of wine before the cut.” One woman who had been inspired by a friend with cancer even had a little cry before she let Phipps pick up the scissors.
Phipps has noticed that it’s much less of a big deal for the kids who are donating hair. About 80 percent of Locks of Love’s donors are children.“When little people get inspired, they dive right in,” she says. Phipps recalls one girl who let her little brother cut off one ponytail, while Phipps cut off the other. Sometimes the whole family gets involved, with all the kids growing their hair and mom bringing in the camcorder on cut day.
In fact, notes Phipps, sometimes the moms are more traumatized than their daughters. “They come in wearing pigtails and leave with a sophisticated bob.”
More than one mom has been surprised by the grown-up results.Phipps points out that unlike Fantastic Sam’s and some other salons, a Locks of Love cut at Glow isn’t free. Rather, “we book extra time for a consultation as well as a cut,” she says.
Phipps said a bob is a hard haircut to do right. At Glow, the stylists section the hair into more than just one ponytail to lop off. They want to be sure Locks of Love gets the hair that the organization needs, and the donor is left with the hair she wants.
“I’ve sometimes told people to come back in a month or so,” says Phipps “just to be sure it doesn’t come out shorter than they anticipated.”
Locks of Love
507 South Cherry Grove Rd.
Glow Salon and Day Spa
2603 Housley Rd.