You’re never too young to help others and make a difference.
That’s the message from Alexander Kho “A.K”, eleven, from Brisbane. A.K patiently grew his hair for two years, only to chop it all off and donate it to help children with auto-immune disease, Alopecia Areata.
I first got the idea to grow my hair to help other children when I was nine years old. At that time, we were living in the Netherlands. One of my little brother’s friends was growing his hair for a Dutch charity that helped provide wigs for children who had lost their hair because of chemotherapy.
I thought it was a really awesome way of doing something really positive for someone else. So when we moved to Australia, a few months later, I asked mum to help me research how to donate hair here. We came across several organisations, and one was Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) and their Wigs for Kids Program.
Alopecia Areata is a hair loss condition where someone’s hair literally falls off. It pretty much comes out in clumps and they are either left with a head full of bald patches or they become totally bald. Many people with the condition also lose their eyebrows, eyelashes and even the hair in their nose. Often, the hair never makes a re-appearance.
My Nana had Alopecia, so we knew a little bit about the condition. But after doing some more research, both mum and I were very surprised to learn that Alopecia Areata affects so many kids, in fact, it often starts at childhood. Sadly, there is no cure. We also discovered that even though many people have the condition, unfortunately, the public in general don’t really know what Alopecia Areata is.
We found lots of personal stories of children with Alopecia on AAAF’s website which we read to find out more. It made me really sad to read about kids, who were just like me, but who woke up one day to discover a bald patch and within a matter of weeks, they had pretty much lost all their hair. Not only did they have to cope with suddenly losing their hair, many of these kids were bullied at school because of it. Many of these kids became very self-conscious, while others became depressed and some even tried to avoid leaving the house.
The one thing that seemed to be common for many of the kids that I read about, was that their life changed when they got a wig. I remember reading about one girl who was so happy after she got her first wig. She said she felt so much more confident in public and could finally walk down the street without attracting stares – something I just take for granted.
That’s when I knew that I had to help.
Growing my hair was fun and being able to help others was huge motivation in keeping me going. Everyone at school thought it was pretty cool. But on hot days it was a bit annoying, I had to tie it up and as it got longer it was really painful when mum brushed it, until she discovered conditioning spray!
Strangers often thought I was a girl. Once at the swimming pool a man tried to stop me going into the boys changing rooms because he thought I was a girl! On occasions, it could get a little embarrassing and sometimes people stared at me. But then I would remember about the stories I read about kids with Alopecia and how they got stared at all the time and thought about how hard that would be. It always reminded me why I was doing what I was.
Often, mum and I would tell people why I was growing my hair and they were very supportive. Many of these people didn’t know what Alopecia Areata was so it was good to be able to make them aware of the condition. Perhaps, if they see someone with Alopecia Areata on the street, they may now not stare at them so much.
In the end, after growing my hair for two years, I got quite attached to it and was really sad when it was finally chopped off. Thankfully, my hairdresser, Tommy Guns in Chermside, made me feel really special. They cut my hair for free and did a great job of styling it. They also made sure it was cut the exact right way to make sure as much hair as possible got sent off.
Now that it’s gone it feels weird. For weeks I kept reaching out for it and then getting surprised that it wasn’t there! I also kept putting too much shampoo in my hair when I washed it.
Even though it feels like part of me is missing, I am really happy and proud to have donated it to AAAF’s Wigs for Kids Program. It’s a really nice feeling to know that my hair is helping someone with Alopecia Areata, even if it is just a little bit. It’s so worth it.
For anyone wanting to do something similar, just do it. As a kid, growing up without hair or having bald patches on your head can be really difficult. Donating your hair is a small personal sacrifice but can mean a huge amount to someone with Alopecia. Just remember to get your mum to buy some conditioning spray to help with those terrible knots!
What is Alopecia Areata?
- Almost half a million Australians are affected by Alopecia Areata.
- Alopecia Areata is an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles which results in hair loss.
- Anyone can have Alopecia Areata – women, men, and children. The condition often first emerges in childhood.
- The vast majority of people with Alopecia Areata experience some degree of re-growth. But the condition is highly unpredictable – it can get worse or improve at any time.
- Currently, there is no cure for Alopecia Areata and no universally proven therapy to induce hair regrowth and sustain remission.
What is the Wigs for Kids Program and where will my hair go?
AAAF’s Wigs for Kids Program provides children with Alopecia with information and financial support to assist them to purchase a wig. All hair that is donated to AAAF is then purchased by wig manufacturers responsible for making hair pieces for medical purposes. The resulting funds go back into AAAF Wigs For Kids Program.
Who can donate hair?
Anyone – children, teenagers, men, and women. Only requirements are:
- the hair needs to be natural – no dyes, colours or treatments
- the donated hair needs to 30cm or greater – layers are ok
- secured top and bottom of the pony tail.
For more information about AAAF and donating your hair to children with Alopecia visit www.aaaf.org.au
What is the Australia Areata Foundation (AAAF)?
The Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) is a not-for-profit that provides people with Alopecia and their families with essential support. AAAF also funds research into the disease in order to find a cure or acceptable treatment, informs the public about the condition and runs the AAAF Wigs for Kids Program. For more information visit www.aaaf.org.au