Pro Bono Program Restores Hair and Self-Esteem in Patients in Need
For others, permanent hair loss can occur as a side effect of a medical condition or as a result of a traumatic injury. In these instances, hair loss is an unexpected side effect that serves as a painful reminder of a previous illness or injury.
In order to help people suffering from hair loss, the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) created Operation Restore, a pro bono program designed to match prospective hair restoration patients suffering from hair loss as a result of an accident, trauma or disease with a physician willing to help those who lack the resources to obtain treatment on their own. Since its inception in 2004, Operation Restore has provided more than $450,000 worth of free hair restoration surgery and expenses for nearly 50 patients suffering from hair loss due to these circumstances.
“We now have 92 ISHRS volunteer physicians from around the world donating their services to Operation Restore, helping patients of all ages with permanent hair loss that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to undergo hair restoration surgery,” said David Perez-Meza, MD, chair of the ISHRS Pro Bono Committee, which oversees Operation Restore. “The challenge in treating Operation Restore patients is not just restoring their hair, but their damaged self-esteem and self-image. Giving patients their confidence back is so important and can change their lives forever.”
Hats Off for Cancer Survivor
When 27-year-old software engineer Derek Nicol of Austin, Texas, was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer in December 2008, the diagnosis required aggressive treatments, including surgeries, daily high-level doses of radiation, and chemotherapy. Fortunately, the treatments worked, but the radiation left Nicol with a devastating side effect – permanent hair loss.
“Being a young guy in my early 20s, I was very self-conscious of my hair loss and wore hats whenever I left the house,” said Nicol. “It was really hard on me.”
His mother echoes her son’s struggles with hair loss. “While we knew that hair restoration surgery could be an option for Derek, he couldn’t afford the procedure and was pretty much resigned to living with hair loss,” said LuAnn Nicol. “But it caused him to suffer more depression than he was already from the whole cancer diagnosis and treatments, so I knew hair restoration surgery would help him tremendously.”
After consulting with Daniel McGrath, DO, an Austin hair restoration surgeon and volunteer physician of the ISHRS Operation Restore program, Nicol first learned about Operation Restore and decided to apply. Thrilled to be accepted as an Operation Restore patient, Nicol was paired with Dr. McGrath and underwent a single hair restoration procedure receiving 2,541 grafts at no charge in July 2011.
“With cancer victims, so much is taken from them already that to add hair loss to the list just seems too cruel,” said Dr. McGrath. “In many cases, we can restore the hair that is lost to this terrible disease while also giving our patients back their dignity and self-confidence.”
Nicol noticed his hair starting to grow in a few months post surgery and describes his results as amazing. “Now I feel less self-conscious and more comfortable in public,” said Nicol. “I finally feel like my normal self again.”
Injured Firefighter Wins Battle with Hair Loss
For 51-year-old Greg Hedrick of Fredericksburg, Va., a hotel fire in 2005 changed his life in a flash. While performing a routine search and rescue, a flash-over caused the entire room Hedrick was canvassing to burst into flames. Hedrick suffered extensive second and third degree burns over his upper body, and he was left with a large section of permanent hair loss on his scarred scalp, including the back of his head.
After numerous skin graft surgeries and years of therapy to regain movement in his hands, Hedrick’s condition improved – except the noticeable bald spot that was a constant reminder of the fire.
“At first my hair loss wasn’t a big issue, since the burns I suffered were of immediate concern,” said Hedrick. “But once everything else started improving and my hair loss didn’t, it started bothering me more. Unlike my other scars, I couldn’t hide my head under a hat all the time and my scarred bald spot was very noticeable even from a distance.”
Hedrick started looking for options for his hair loss and after meeting with a hair transplant surgeon, Hedrick was optimistic that he could finally get treatment. However, since his worker’s compensation considered hair restoration surgery a cosmetic procedure and not medically required for Hedrick’s treatment, he knew that the procedure was not within his reach. That changed when Hedrick met Edwin S. Epstein, MD, a Virginia Beach, Va., hair restoration surgeon and Operation Restore volunteer physician.
At Dr. Epstein’s suggestion, Hedrick applied to Operation Restore to cover the cost of the surgery needed to restore his hair. To his surprise, Hedrick was accepted into the program and matched with Dr. Epstein.
Hedrick underwent hair restoration surgery with Dr. Epstein in April 2010, receiving 2,632 grafts to cover the large area of hair loss that resulted from the fire. “Greg was very motivated to improve his hair loss, and a hair transplant was a much easier alternative to the tissue expansion procedure originally suggested after his skin grafting,” said Dr. Epstein. “While his donor supply was limited, his hair characteristics were ideal for hair transplantation.”
Now, Hedrick is happy to feel like a regular guy again. “It feels so much better to have my hair back and not to see my scar every day. In the past, the sun would always bother my scalp because of the burns. I always wore hats even when I was outside for a short period of time.”
How Operation Restore Can Help
Patients suffering from hair loss due to disease or trauma and cannot afford hair restoration surgery are encouraged to apply to the ISHRS’s Operation Restore program. Applications are available through the ISHRS Web site – www.ishrs.org– and are reviewed by the Pro Bono Committee of the ISHRS. Selected patients are matched with an ISHRS physician volunteer and every effort is made to match patients with physicians in their geographic area. In cases where travel is necessary, the program covers these expenses for the patient.
In June 2008, the Hair Foundation – a non-profit foundation devoted to promoting “hair health” by educating the public about options for treatment and maintenance of healthy hair – formed a collaborative effort with ISHRS to help raise funds through appropriate corporate donors to support Operation Restore.
To make a direct donation to help the Operation Restore program, please visit here.
Founded in 1993, the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) is a non-profit medical association with a membership of over 1,000 members worldwide dedicated to the advancement of the art and science of hair restoration. The mission of the ISHRS is to achieve excellence in patient outcomes by promoting member education, international collegiality, research, ethics, and public awareness. For more information and to locate a physician, visit www.ishrs.org.