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Sherri Richards, Published December 01 2011

Hair loss hasn’t held girl back

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. – Sophie Larson likes to look at herself in the mirror. Sometimes she gets upset, says her mom, Sally Larson.

“In the second grade, can you imagine?” Sally says.

But Sally has learned the importance of hair in our society, even for a second-grader.

When Sophie was about 20 months old, her hair started falling out.

Her parents took her to a dermatologist, who determined there was nothing they could do. Sophie, now 7, has alopecia areata, a condition with no known cause or cure that causes patches of hair loss. It’s thought to be an autoimmune disorder. The body attacks its own hair follicles.

There are some temporary treatments, like steroid creams and pills, Sally says. Some kids get injections to promote hair growth, but those are tedious, lengthy and painful, she says.

So Sophie’s hair continued to fall out, mostly on the top. “She kind of looks like a little old man,” Sally says.

Sophie’s hair loss didn’t hold her back or really affect the Larson family, which also includes dad Cody, 10-year-old Madelyn and 2-year-old Greta. Sophie is the fashionista in the family, always expressing opinions about what she does and doesn’t like. Sally describes her as a “toughie who likes sparkle and glitter.”

The school system and teachers in Breckenridge have been excellent, Sally says, and the kids in her class don’t treat her any differently. Cody and Sally try to teach their daughters about acceptance and that true beauty is on the inside.

Last year, though, Sophie began to notice kids she didn’t know looking at her and whispering.

“Kids base everything on what they see,” Sally says. “When something is different, kids notice.”

Society is very much into looks, as well. “Hair is huge,” Sally says. “What girl doesn’t want to look like Barbie or have hair like that supermodel?”

About nine months ago, Sophie started wearing a synthetic wig. This fall, she received a human-hair prosthesis from Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces made from donated hair to children under age 21 with long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. Its mission “is to return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss.”

When Sophie needed to shave the “fuzzies” on her head so the wig would fit better, Cody shaved his head, too.

Around her close friends and family, it doesn’t bother Sophie to go without her wig. Sometimes she’ll think she doesn’t need to wear it but starts to feel self-conscious and puts it on, Sally says.

“I can definitely notice she’s much more comfortable to step out there (with the wig on),” Sally says.

For this, Sally is thankful to Locks and Love, as well as to Violet Deilke of the Centre for Hair and Wellness in Moorhead, who connected the family with another girl who has alopecia.

Sophie has also found an example in Kayla Martell, who represented Delaware in this year’s Miss America pageant. Martell began losing her hair from alopecia areata at age 13.

“It’s not just her,” Sally says of her daughter’s condition. “Even a beauty queen” can have alopecia.

Sally says the family often sees stories and photos of girls who have donated their hair to Locks of Love. Madelyn also donated 11 inches of her thick, blond hair to the organization. Sophie receiving a hairpiece brings those efforts full circle.

Sophie has also started to ask her mom to style her new hairpiece, a common bonding experience between mothers and daughters.

She asks Sally to put it in a half-ponytail, curl it, add a sparkly barrette, or to simply comb it. “She obviously missed that a little,” Sally says.