Teen’s alopecia awareness campaign helped her find new confidence

Kate-Leigh (third from left) with her sisters Aoife (six) and Ciara (nine), aunt Mary Tighe, and best friend Karen Horen with the team at Angela Chambers Mode Hairdressing in Castlebar. Photo: Michael Donnelly.

Kate-Leigh (third from left) with her sisters Aoife (six) and Ciara (nine), aunt Mary Tighe, and best friend Karen Horen with the team at Angela Chambers Mode Hairdressing in Castlebar. Photo: Michael Donnelly.

An inspirational teenager from Ballina has spoken out about her experience of losing all of her hair to alopecia in a bid to raise awareness about the distressing condition in her school and community.

Seventeen-year-old Kate-Leigh Farrell, who is a student at St Mary’s, Ballina, first developed alopecia areata when she was seven years of age.

Unfortunately for Kate-Leigh, there was no effective treatment for her and she went on to the develop the rare condition, alopecia universalis, which led to the total loss of all of her hair.

Last year, a transition year project called the Young Social Innovators prompted Kate-Leigh to speak out to her classmates about her condition and to ask them to help her to raise awareness about alopecia and some of the stigma and common misunderstandings associated with it.

“A lot of people taking part in the Young Social Innovators focus on topical issues such as bullying or substance abuse. I thought it was a good opportunity to speak about alopecia,” explained Kate-Leigh.

“Having alopecia was very hard to speak about when I was a child.

“I wore a bandana until I was 12 and it made me stand out in a crowd. Many people automatically thought I had cancer, which sometimes caused a lot of embarrassment and confusion.”

Kate-Leigh wanted to make more people aware that there are other causes to total hair loss and that it is Ok to speak about it.

She joined forces with 29 of her classmates and dubbed the project ‘Baldilocks and the 29 Hairs’.

“I went to a group of friends and told them what was going on,” she said. “They really got behind the project and we worked to raise awareness about alopecia in the school, community, and town.”

Customised wig

“We did articles in the local newspapers and were interviewed on radio. We handed out flyers and started a Facebook page all about the campaign.”

The campaign also led to an unexpected but hugely welcome boost for Kate-Leigh.

A few months ago, hair stylist Angela Chambers from Mode Hairdressing, who has a lot of expertise in the area of hair loss and wigs, heard about Kate-Leigh’s project and got in touch.

“She said she wanted to do something to help, to raise awareness about donating human hair and how this can help so many people like me,” said Kate-Leigh.

Ms Chambers worked with Kate-Leigh to create a specialised, customised, wig.

Kate-Leigh’s female relatives and friends all got involved in the process.

Her sisters Aoife (six ) and Ciara (nine ), aunt Mary Tighe, and best friend Karen Horen all went along to Mode and agreed to cut their long hair and donate it for Kate-Leigh’s new wig.

“This is the first time a wig has been measured to my head,” outlined Kate-Leigh. “It suits me so much more and it feels a lot better.

“Angela has been really good with teaching me about the wig, how to style it, and especially how to maintain it, which is the most important thing.

“Having a good wig is really important and I am so grateful to Angela Chambers for giving me a wig which she personalised for me, and for the kindness and support she has given myself and my family.”

Kate-Leigh and Angela are now calling on girls and women to consider donating their own hair to help someone suffering from alopecia.

“So many girls have long hair and when they go to get it cut, it goes to waste,” pointed out Kate-Leigh.

“If they have 14 inches to cut, they could fit the criteria to donate it instead.

“That hair is such a special gift for someone who has alopecia.”

To find out more about donating hair, contact Mode Hairdressing, Lucan Street, Castlebar. Anyone donating hair gets a free haircut in return for the much-needed hair.

Hair must be a minimum of 14 inches and untreated.

Contact Angela at Mode on (094 ) 9034616.

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