A Very Personal Gift
Loren Bruner and Daughter, Elizabeth, make it a tradition to donate their hair to Locks of Love
It’s probably safe to say that our hair helps define most of us. Whether or not that falls into the category of vanity, the perfect cut and style enhance our confidence and make us feel good.
So imagine losing your hair. Whether is be from treatments related to cancer or Alopecia areata, watching it fall out has to be a very traumatic experience, one that is uncontrollable.
Alopecia is defined as an autoimmune disorder that attacks the hair follicles, damaging them to the point that the hair starts falling out in clumps. About 4.7 million people in the United States suffer from Alopecia, most under 20 years of age. While the hair typically grows back, about 10 percent of those afflicted remain bald.
For cancer patients, both radiation to treat brain tumors and chemotherapy can result in hair loss. While temporary, the length of treatment dictates the duration of that loss. Other, less common disorders as well as traumatic accidents like burns and dog attacks can also result in loss of hair.
Thankfully, there are both organizations that are making human hair wigs for these individuals and those who are willing to grow, cut and donate their own hair for the wigs.
Locks of Love became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1997. Instrumental in this endeavor was Madonna Coffman, a retired nurse who, in her 20s, developed Alopecia as the result of a hepatitis vaccination. Then, 15 years later, her four-year-old daughter acquired it as well. Thankfully, both recovered but the experience prompted Coffman to align herself with the charity.
Locks of Love “provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis,” according to their website. If a family sought to purchase a human hair wig from a retailer, they’d spend $3,500 to $6,000. Locks of Love, instead, assesses what the family can afford, if anything.
These hairpieces differ from conventional wigs in that they form a vacuum seal when worn (for those completely bald), keeping them securely in place and allowing the individual the ability to do just about anything…even swim. From the time a child’s application is accepted, it takes four to six months to manufacture a hairpiece.
The parents receive a molding kit from Locks of Love with a DVD that explains how to make a plaster mold of their child’s head. It is used to create a fitting cap, the part of the hairpiece that creates the vacuum seal.
“The child is able to choose the color and length of the hair they would like as well as the skin tone color of the silicone base,” locksoflove.org says. “Each prosthesis requires between six and 10 ponytails and each strand of hair is hand-injected into the silicone base up to 150,000 times. Once the prostheses are provided, each child may style it to complement their facial features. Children ages six to 21 can reapply for a new prosthesis every 18 months.”
Several salons around Cabarrus County participate in cutting hair for Locks of Love; Great Clips is one of them. That’s where Concord’s Loren Bruner and her daughter Elizabeth, 13, have gone to make their donations.
“The first time I donated was over 10 years ago,” Loren Bruner says. “The mommy-daughter tradition began in 2007 when Elizabeth was six years old. We have always used a Great Clips salon that participates in Locks of Love and sends our locks on our behalf. We have even used a Great Clips in Boise, Idaho.”
Bruner says she was prompted to donate her hair when she read an article about childhood cancers. “It broke my heart to say the least,” she says.
Once Elizabeth was old enough to understand the need – and to grow out her hair – she joined her mom in the experience. “I wanted to not only help, but also teach my daughter that even the smallest act of selfless kindness can touch someone’s life,” Bruner explains. “This was also something that Elizabeth and I get to bond over. In this busy life, time with family is so important.”
She recalls the first time she took Elizabeth to get her hair cut. “She actually thought that she’d be bringing the hair directly. She really wanted to meet the girl that was getting her baby curls.”
The Bruners definitely see themselves growing their hair out again; Elizabeth has donated three times and Loren has donated four times. “Yes, we have very fast growing hair!” Bruner adds.
Locks of Love requires a donation be at least 10 inches in length and in a ponytail or braid. It needs to be placed in a plastic bag and then into a padded envelope before sending. The hair may be dyed (not bleached), permed or layered; however, dreadlocks and synthetic hair are not accepted. Hair shorter than 10 inches and gray hair can still be donated, but will be sold to cover the costs of manufacturing.
For those children still growing – those under six – and those suffering from a temporary hair loss, Locks of Love also makes synthetic hairpieces. This is because synthetic pieces can be manufactured much more quickly.
An application is available online – www.locksoflove.org – for those who have a child in need. The charity’s board of directors then reviews the application and is the deciding body. Hair donations may be mailed to Locks of Love: 234 Southern Boulevard,West Palm Beach, FL 33405-2701.
While Locks of Love has been the better-known source for children’s wigs, Pantene, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, has initiated its own effort, called Beautiful Lengths. To-date, Pantene has donated 24,000 human hair wigs to the American Cancer Society’s wig banks. These are then given to eligible recipients across the U.S. free of charge.
Pantene’s manufacturing process is a little different. They use eight to 15 ponytails at least eight inches in length for each of their hairpieces. They dye the donated hair for each wig the same color for consistency. Thus, they do not accept gray or already colored hair. Call the American Cancer Society’s Wig Bank Line at 1-877-227-1596 for more information.
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