Boca Raton News
Monday, August 1, 2005

 Help (for hair loss) is on the way

Local doctor aids man who suffered through 16 years of painful hair loss

Friday was a day of new beginnings for 44-year-old Michael of Aiken, South Carolina.

After living, for the past 16 years, with a condition that made him embarrassed to leave his home without something covering his head, the husband and father of a teenage daughter is finally ready to rip the hat off of his head and let his hair down. Literally.

Michael, who chooses not to use his last name, underwent a six-hour microscopically prepared follicular unit hair transplantation Friday. Performed at the Boca Raton office of Dr. Glenn Charles, the procedure started just after 9:30 a.m. and finished around 4:30 p.m., with a break for lunch in the afternoon.

This procedure comes 16 years after Michael received an old style graft, or hair plugs.

"I first started noticing my hair loss sometime during the end of college when I was about 20 or 21, in that age range. Over the next three or four years it really started to become something extremely obvious and that is when I started looking to do something about it," said Michael.

"Back then there wasn't a lot of info except for the TV ads and I thought that was the route to go. That was the worst thing that I ever did in my life. So I always wore a hat or that sort of thing to hide it. Over the years you learn how to hide it."

Michael spent the next 10 years looking for any kind of information that could help him, but everyone he went to for advice shot him down, telling him that he would be wasting his time and money. That was until three months ago when he stumbled upon a Web site run by Patrick Hennessey.

Hennessey, 41, started experiencing hair loss at 25. After having a successful transplant by Dr. Ron Shapiro of Minnesota, one of the top hair transplant surgeons in the world, Hennessey decided that he wanted to chronicle his experiences with hair loss on a personal Web page because he found that not a whole lot of information was out there on the subject.

"It was a simple site that told my story. People came across my site and thought it was cool because it was a real patient telling a story. They asked me how I found my doctor and how they could find one near them, so I started helping them by visiting doctors and doctors' offices," said Hennessey, of Hollywood, Florida.

Seven years later, that simple Web site has grown into something larger than he ever expected; www.hairlosslearningcenter.org, of which he is president, has become something of a worldwide beacon of hope for all those plagued by hair loss.

 "We make it easy for the doctors to find the great patients and for the patients to find the great doctors. We are very picky about who we take in. Only one out of five doctors are accepted. We have 25 physicians now worldwide," he said.

"Our mission as a group is to help patients find the best treatments, learn about them and find the best hair restoration physicians in the world."

Hennessey said the Web site, which has been going strong for the last four to five years, has helped thousands of people trying to find a solution to their hair loss.

One of the main perks for visitors to the Web site is that every month there is a national contest in which a person who suffers from hair loss can submit their story on the forum in hopes that they will be chosen to win a free hair transplant. Not only was Michael recently voted the people's choice to receive the free hair transplant, but he was also selected by Hennessey and doctors from the Coalition of Independent Hair Restoration Physicians, including Charles.

"We wanted to hear the other people's input, but we doctors determined whether or not he was a good candidate. He just seemed like he was so appreciative and that his life was so difficult over the last 15 years, so I picked him. I could have picked easier cases, patients who have never had work done, but his case was so compelling. This was definitely a more difficult way for me to go, but I felt that he really deserved it," said Charles.

In Michael's case, hair transplant surgery would have cost him anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000, but Charles waived the fee. From his prior surgery 16 years earlier, Michael had large amounts of scarring and his old hair plugs still remained in his scalp.

Michael's hair was as bad as it gets, according to Charles.

"The problem with the old work is that they would have five to 15 hair plugs up front and then row after row of the same amount so it looked like cornrows. It might have looked good while they were still young, but as the person got older and lost more of their hair, the plugs were standing out by themselves and they were unacceptable," said Charles.

"I actually had to remove [Michael's plugs] and reuse them. We put [them] back in somewhere else. It was a lot of work; a big, big case."

For Michael, Charles put single hair follicles up front, with two hairs behind it, and three and four hairs behind that.

"The hairline is the make or break of a transplant," said Charles.

Friday's surgery started with a local anesthesia given to Michael's scalp, as well as an oral sedative to help relax him. A donor area strip on the back of his head that runs from ear to ear was removed. It was then cut into slivers, which were then cut into tiny grafts with one, two, or three hairs in them.

Michael was given a HairMax LaserComb from Lexington International, LLC, which was donated to Charles to provide to Michael. The $645 comb helps to promote healthier hair, a healthier scalp and quicker growth.

Charles sees between 20 to 30 consultations a month, and treats females and males for hair loss in their eyebrows, eyelashes, beard area, all over, but mainly the head and face.

As for Michael, it'll be another four to five months before he starts to see results. To him this is the only major downfall of the surgery.

"Right now all it looks like is there's a rash on my head. I have yet to see any swelling," said Michael. "I'm icing my forehead constantly, 15 minutes of every hour. Now I just need to get the sutures out.

"My case was challenging because not only did I have the old stuff that he had to deal with, but also because the donor hair in the back of my head was pretty limited. He got as much as he could possibly get.  

They did a really nice job.

"I am done now. I have nothing to do but wait."