For some the stress of every day life can prove to be too much actually causing their hair to fall out. But now there’s an experimental treatment in the Bay area that may help your hair grow back regardless of why it fell out.
Russell Gibson is hoping it will work for him. Under the hot Florida sun each day he wears a black knit stocking cap pulled down low over his ears and his eyebrows. He spends hours working outside because he owns “Momma Gibbs Top Notch Boat Detail.” Seeing see him dressed in a t-shirt and shorts with a cap on his head makes most people look twice.
He says when customers or friends ask him why he’s wearing it he tries to quickly change the subject. In nearly three years hardly anyone has seen Gibson without a cap. “Nobody really knows that I have this problem except for two or three people I’ve actually told.”
In his garage in private when his roommate is gone and no one else is home is the only time he will remove it. He shaves away the short black clumps of hair so you won’t notice the circular areas of hair that have fallen out.
Gibson has alopecia areata which is an auto-immune disease where white blood cells attack the hair follicle which stops hair growth on the scalp and on the body. Gibson’s eyebrows and lashes have fallen out. There is no cure.
The condition can be brought on by extreme stress among other things. When Gibson developed it he was on an emotional rollercoaster. He’d recently lost his grandmother and was going through a breakup. He maintains a busy lifestyle not only running a business during the day but working as a certified nursing assistant in the evenings.
Gibson says the experience with his hair loss has been grueling because he’s always been outgoing and enjoys spending time with his family and friends. But now he avoids group gatherings so he won’t have to answer questions about his hats.
Growing up Gibson always had a full head of hair but says this experience has changed his life. He skips important gatherings with his family and friends because he says he doesn’t want to tell them about his condition. He’s fearful that they will look at him differently. He also doesn’t want to show up at places where it may be disrespectful to wear a hat like for a holiday dinner or a wedding. “It got to the point that I didn’t go over and see my family unless it was daytime that way I could wear sunglasses and a hat to cover up.”
John Satino is the clinical director at the “Hair and Scalp Clinics” located in Clearwater. He can relate to what Gibson is going through. He says “I started losing hair at an early age in 1969. We didn’t have too many options back then. We had hair transplants and hair pieces or wigs. The hair transplants were very archaic and bloody and painful.”
That’s why Gibson opted to get help from Satino to undergo an experimental treatment using stem cells instead. Satino explains how it works. “So this treatment involves drawing the blood of the patient, their own blood. It’s then separated. It’s called PRP or platelet rich plasma which contains stem cells and growth factors. Those factors then are injected into the scalp in the affected area.” Satino says a laser is used to agitate the skin so the stem cells can migrate into the hair follicles.
The stem cell treatment can cost several thousands dollars and it can be uncomfortable. It’s a one time procedure that can be performed on men and women and it takes about an hour. Patients are expected to see results after about three months.
Gibson is being treated for free along with a handful of others. Their results are going to be published in a study.
He’s hoping that if his hair continues to grow he’ll finally be able to get his life back. He laughs as he says “So by August I plan on taking all my hats and having a big bonfire and I will never wear a hat again to be honest.”
John Satino says if you’re losing your hair there are several other treatment options available but first he recommends patients who are losing their hair take a DNA test. It’s a simple mouth swab taken to determine whether you have male pattern baldness. It costs about 100 dollars and you can see your lab results online before following up with a doctor.
He adds that injections of cortisones or steroids can work for some but may only have temporary results. Laser treatments are another option that may work and then there’s the stem cell treatment which is the procedure Russell Gibson is undergoing.