Hair Loss, Heartache and New Hope

By Yvonne Marchese

Phoenix Women Magazine

July 2009

How lovely it is when a gentle breeze caresses your hair and lifts your spirits? Imagine being preoccupied with trying to keep on a wig instead of enjoying this experience. For many Americans suffering from a rare disorder, this is their reality.

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder resulting in severe hair loss that occurs in 2 percent of the general population, equally affecting men and women. While the condition can be found in persons of any age, it is more3 common in children and young adults. It generally presents itself as patchy hair loss, resulting in perfectly round bald spots that may come and go depending on the severity of the condition.

Complete hair loss is a traumatic experience – one with which Wendy Coco is all too familiar. At an age when most toddlers’ hair begins to grow longer and thicker, Coco was losing hers at a remarkable rate. In kindergarten, her mother bought her a wig, which she says looked and felt like a bird’s nest.

It didn’t take long for fellow students to realize Coco was wearing a wig and thus began years of bullying. “I remember that one girl would literally torment me. She would walk beside me and keep jumping up to try to pull my wig off,” says Coco. “The boys managed to do it twice, and a couple of times it blew off in the wind. I just wanted to shrink and fall off the earth.”

When she hit puberty, Coco’s condition had progressed to Alopecia Totalis, which meant losing her head and facial hair completely without any chance of it growing back – and it was getting worse.

By her 30’s, she had progressed to Alopecia Universalis – a condition in which there is absolutely no hair left anywhere on the body. “This is the most severe stage of Alopecia Areata,” says Sean Dirodis, a consultant from National Hair Centers in Phoenix. “Only one in 100,000 people will develop this form of Alopecia.”

Seeking Support Coco recalls the lack of support from her parents throughout her childhood. “They were very insecure and somewhat ashamed because I was different from other children,” says Coco. She remembers the look of disapproval from her mother when she would adjust her wig in public.

Coco admits that she has developed some social anxieties as a result of the treatment she received from both loved ones and total strangers during her lifetime. But today, at age 54, Coco is finally building confidence and self-esteem thanks to her husband Tony. “Tony responds with support and love. He reassures me,” says Coco.

And it was Tony who researched and suggested Coco explore the new technologies available in hair restoration. “He told me that there had to be something better out there than synthetic hair wigs,” Coco says. Together, they visited studios in Phoenix, finding what they hoped for at National Hair Centers.

High-Tech Hair Coco now wears a full head hair system. “I call it my hair! It allows me to live my life,” she says.

When asked what she would say to others who suffer from the condition, she replies, “Be comfortable in your own skin – you have nothing to be ashamed of. Find that confidence within yourself. That’s the most important lesson.”