Pro-Bono Program Goes to Great Lengths to Give Hair Loss Patients Their Hair, Self-Esteem Back
North Carolina woman who suffered hair loss after a traumatic injury
is one of a dozen patients who have received free hair restoration surgery
GENEVA, IL. – September 8, 2018. Not long ago, common everyday activities like riding a bike, swimming or going to a hair salon were out of the question for 34-year-old Vonetta Chisholm of Charlotte, N.C. That’s because Chisholm suffered extensive hair loss following a fall as a young girl that severely injured her scalp, and she spent years covering up her resulting hair loss with wigs and hair weaves that could accidentally come undone and reveal her well-kept secret.
All the years spent feeling insecure and self-conscious about her hair loss changed when she met Jerry E. Cooley, MD, a local hair restoration surgeon and volunteer physician of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery’s (ISHRS) Operation Restore program.
Operation Restore is the ISHRS’s 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 people like Chisholm who lack the resources to obtain treatment on their own.
“Since its inception in 2004, Operation Restore has provided more than $100,000 worth of free hair restoration surgery and expenses for more than a dozen patients suffering from hair loss due to these circumstances,” said David Perez-Meza, MD, chair of the ISHRS Pro-Bono Committee, which oversees Operation Restore. “We currently have 61 ISHRS volunteer physicians worldwide who donate their services to Operation Restore, and over the years we have helped patients ranging in age from six to 50 who would not have had the opportunity to undergo a hair transplant without this program.”
At Dr. Cooley’s suggestion, Chisholm applied to Operation Restore to cover the multiple surgeries needed to restore her hair. To her surprise, she was accepted into the program and was matched with Dr. Cooley.
“When I found out that I was accepted to receive hair restoration surgery courtesy of Operation Restore, I was speechless,” said Chisholm. “I felt like I had won the lottery! My family and friends were so excited for me. I’m so grateful to the ISHRS and Dr. Cooley for making this possible.”
Despite her extensive scarring and large area of hair loss, Dr. Cooley determined during his initial consultation with Chisholm that she was a good candidate for the surgery – both medically and psychologically.
“From a medical perspective, Vonetta had plenty of good hair to begin with that would be used for the hair transplant,” said Dr. Cooley. “Being African-American, Vonetta has coarse, curly hair that provides good coverage, so that also helped. Psychologically, Vonetta was highly motivated and expressed realistic expectations, a key factor in any type of cosmetic surgery.”
Beginning in April 2007, Chisholm underwent four procedures with Dr. Cooley over a 10-month period to repair her injured scalp, where hair was no longer growing and to restore hair to that area.
“Vonetta had a big white linear scar on the frontal scalp area that a hair transplant alone would not have helped,” explained Dr. Cooley. “So, the first two procedures we performed were scalp reductions, which involve cutting out a long section of skin, pulling together the sides, and sewing it up. These scalp reduction surgeries were very successful in getting rid of the scar area. The next step was a typical hair transplant surgery, in which the patient’s own donor hair is taken from the back of the scalp and implanted in tiny grafts in the bald area. While Vonetta was thrilled with the results of this initial hair transplant, I recommended a second hair transplant to refine and fill in areas with more density.”
Dr. Cooley typically tells his patients that it takes a full year from the last surgery for the final results, so he expects Chisholm to continue to see improvement in her hair with increased thickness and fullness.
For Chisholm, the improvements she has seen so far have been better than she ever imagined. “I recently went to work for the first time without my wig, which was a big milestone for me. My boyfriend and I also went to the gym recently and went swimming – something I didn’t do before my hair transplant. In the past, I always had to pre-plan my day and anticipate what I could or couldn’t do because of my hair loss. Now I don’t have to shy away from doing things, and my self-esteem and overall outlook has really improved.”
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.
Founded in 1993, the ISHRS is a non-profit medical association dedicated to the advancement of the art and science of hair restoration. With a membership of over 750 physicians worldwide, the ISHRS provides continuing medical education to physicians specializing in hair loss and restoration surgery and serves as a resource for the public on the latest medical and surgical hair restoration treatments for hair loss. For more information and to locate a physician, visit www.ishrs.org.
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Editor’s Note: Before and after photos of Vonetta Chisholm and b-roll of her initial surgery, including interviews with Chisholm and Dr. Cooley, are available upon request.