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“Wigs For Kids” Helps Local Girl Cope With Hair Loss

Wednesday, March 28, 2001 at 4:06 PM

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Everyone has hair loss in one form or another. The American Academy of Dermatology says most people lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day. Nothing too dramatic. But, some medical conditions can cause extreme hair loss for people who wouldn't normally be going through life bald -- like children. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports on one Cleveland girl who is coping with almost complete hair loss because of a little-known condition that changed life for her -- and her family.

Nicole Velez- Do my wig!

Tarice Sims- Nicole Velez has had health problems since the day she was born. 4 years ago her parents worried about the medical complications that surrounded her premature birth. Nicole struggled through high fevers, and frequent ear infections, but her mother Patty Velez says the worse was yet to come.

Patty Velez- Well, a month before her first birthday I noticed she had a big patch of hair missing when I was washing her hair. And I was really concerned about it and we weren’t sure if she was pulling out her hair or what she was doing so we contacted her pediatrician.

TS- Doctors told Velez her baby girl had Alopecia areata, a disease that causes a persons immune system to attack hair follicles resulting in baldness. Although it’s not a well known disease, it affects about 4 million people across the nation, many of them children. The Velez’s like any parents tried to find a cause for their daughters illness, but to no avail. Dr. Joseph Ross is assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve Metrohealth Medical Center. He specializes in hair replacement and says the cause of Alopecia Areta is not necessarily hereditary.

Joseph Ross- It doesn’t seem to be any direct inheritance pattern, in other words if someone in your family has it doesn’t somebody else in the family is going to have it.

TS- The National Alopecia Areta Foundation found that in only 1 in 5 cases another family had the same condition. But for the Velez family this was something new. They had limited hope of finding reason for the condition. Instead her parents moved on to how to cope. Patty Velez says she and her husband tried a steroid treatment on their 1 1/2-year-old to try to save her hair. Doctors would monitor her for a period of time, to see if the treatment would work and also to make sure the medication wouldn’t harm Nicole. But Velez says it didn’t work.

PV- We did the treatment and her hair was still falling out and we had let her go for a while.

TS- Eventually Velez found an organization that could help her child have a “normal” life—Wigs for Kids. Jeffrey Paul says he started the organization over 20 years ago when he learned that his niece had leukemia. At the time Paul was a hair stylist promoting glamour, his niece simply wanted to save her hair and look good when she competed in gymnastics. So he made a career change and decided to help kids with hair loss be able to look and act like regular kids.

Jeffrey Paul- We had a 5-year-old beautiful red hair and she said Mr. Paul can I stand on my head in the sand box because I like to do that and spin around’ and I thought Oh my goodness, ‘cause her mom said they’d put a wig on her just a normal store bought wig and it came off and she came home crying because she couldn’t find it and it was terrible. So our attachment gives a child the ability to live like themselves.

TS- Wigs for Kids designs the wigs for the individual child. They cast a mold in the shape of their head, and structure it using donated human hair. The whole process can cost between $500 to $3,000. Through the help of her daughters pediatrician Patty Velez was able to help defer cost and get Nicole’s first wig this winter. Now preparing and wearing the wig has become an almost daily ritual for the 4-year-old.

NV- Maybe I need some help so I can put some of that on my head.

TS- Velez helps her daughter Nicole secure her wig whenever they go out. First, Velez sprays a protection coating of the skin product Brisk on her daughters scalp.

NV- Mom help me - this is what is called Brisk. For your short hair; It’s for your short hair and helps so you don’t get hot and itchy!

TS- Then Velez secures the wig around her daughter’s head. Nicole has learned to brush her wig on her own. Velez says Nicole only wears the wig when they go out. Around the house, she prefers to go natural.

PV- We love the way she is, she’s her own person. She absolutely loves the way she is! She’s not offended by people at all. She’s not offended by what people say. If somebody asks her a question or say Nicole what’s wrong with you she says I don’t have any hair and she’s plain and simply about.

TS- Velez says her daughter is fortunate to have gotten wig. It costs around $1,500 for a piece. But she says other families aren’t as fortunate.

This week Jeffrey Paul’s Institute for Image and Well-Being kicked off a funding raising campaign for the Wigs for Kids program. The Velez family are helping the cause in their community. With the support of area businesses they want to not only raise money, but awareness so that people will be less likely to raise eyebrows when they see other kids with hair loss. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN.

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