Lots of Locks

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 1, 2007

By Emily Ford

For The Salisbury Post


Functionally, it offers us little benefit. Maybe warmth on a cold day or shade on a hot one, but nothing a hat couldn’t provide just as well.

In a utilitarian sense, as far as body parts go, hair’s got nothing on an arm or a leg.

Losing your hair won’t kill you. Physically, hair loss is painless. Hair costs billions of dollars every year in salon visits, products and accessories. It causes vanity, jealousy and clogged drains.

Practically speaking, human hair means virtually nothing.

But for the girl who can’t grow any, it can mean everything.

So this Christmas, my daughters and I are giving our hair to her. To the girl who can’t grow any and the millions of other boys and girls like her. To the kids who are laughed at, stared at, pointed at. The kids who don’t play basketball or go swimming. The kids who feel embarrassed, self-conscious or sad.

These kids suffer from a condition called alopecia, and their Christmas miracles come year-round from an organization called Locks of Love.

While many people believe Locks of Love serves kids with cancer, the Florida charity actually gives 90 percent of its state-of-the-art hairpieces to children with alopecia and other long-term hair loss conditions. These kids go without hair for years, or even for life. Alopecia has no known cause or cure.

Two weeks ago, Clara, Eleanor and I had our 12-inch ponytails cut off at Hair Associates. We went to our longtime salon, but anyone can cut your hair for Locks of Love — you can even do it yourself.

Lopping off 36 inches was joyous. Growing it for the past two years or so was not.

Morning fights over her hair often left both Nellie, 8, and me in tears. She refused barrettes and bows, so her tresses mostly blew all over, collecting snarls, grass and the occasional twig. She even had a small dreadlock at one point.

When pulled straight, 3-year-old Clara’s ringlets reached her waist. She asked every night in the tub, “Wash hair night” and begged me to say no.

We were more than ready to make our “follicular donation,” as Locks of Love calls it.

A child’s first haircut is always momentous, but having a 12-inch ponytail removed while a newspaper photographer documents it and everyone watches may have intimidated quiet Clara.

“She’s being so good!” Tom Troutman said as he cleaned up my hair and Jerrie Cozart styled Clara’s.

“I think she’s in shock,” I said.

Nellie had cold feet earlier in the week, but she recovered as Barbara Schenk cut her mane and made Nellie feel like a queen.

Throughout the event, no one shed a tear. Well, my dad may have cried when he saw the pictures on his computer. Even the next morning, when I was sure the girls would look in the mirror and scream, everyone seemed exceedingly happy.

But not as happy as the kids who get new hair.

Pictures and letters at www.locksoflove. org show the difference these hairpieces make for children with alopecia, burns and other dermatological conditions that cause permanent hair loss. Suddenly, they’re regular kids again.

“You have given me a new beginning!” one child wrote.

“It will change the way I feel,” another said.

“You have no idea what you have done for my daughter,” wrote a parent.

Far from ordinary wigs, these amazing prostheses restore self-esteem. Locks of Love has given 2,000 hairpieces, each worth $3,500 to $6,000, to financially disadvantaged children and teenagers since 1998.

After a thorough application process, children accepted into the program receive a molding kit and instructional DVD. They make a plaster mold of their head, which is used to make a foam mold that serves as the head block for the hairpiece.

Children choose the color and length of hair they would like. Since most children choose long hair, and because two inches of length is lost during the manufacturing process, Locks of Love needs ponytails measuring at least 10 inches.

Volunteers sort donated ponytails in the Florida office. They ship the hair to the manufacturer, who removes the short, unusable hair. This hair is sold to offset the cost of production.

Every hairpiece requires six to 10 ponytails, because the shorter hairs in each donated ponytail can’t be used.

The manufacturer blends the colors for the child’s hairpiece and sends it to the factory. There, a surgical silicone skullcap is made from the foam head block. More than 140,000 pieces of hair are injected by hand one at a time into the skullcap. The whole process can take up to four months.

Between the ages of 6 and 18, children may reapply every 18 months for up to five hairpieces. Since they grow so quickly, children under 6 receive synthetic hairpieces.

The retired nurse who started Locks of Love, Madonna Coffman, suffered from alopecia in her 20s and eventually recovered. But years later, enduring her 4-year-old daughter’s traumatic hair loss spurred Coffman to start the organization.

More than 80 percent of the ponytails donated to Locks of Love come from kids, making it a charity that relies almost entirely on children to help other children. Who else better understands the need for hair?

While hair may not benefit us greatly, hair loss can hurt a child mightily.

Merry Christmas, Locks of Love. And Happy New Hair!


Emily Ford is a freelance writer living in Salisbury.