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Beating baldness

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Posted at 4:36 PM, Apr 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-16 18:36:42-04

star-sponsored-native  The following article is sponsored by University of Utah Health Care.
By Natalie Dicou

Cody was still in his teens when he noticed the telltale sign: His forehead was expanding. It was only a matter of time. Barely out of high school, Cody was going bald.

“I can’t say it stood in the way of anything,” said Cody, now 38. “I just didn’t like it. Slowly it had gotten worse, and I saw a flier and decided to do something about it.”

Last year Cody underwent a hair transplantation, which involves harvesting hair follicles from the back of the head and inserting them into areas of the scalp that are … “follicly challenged.”

No, we’re not talking about the doll-head plugs of the ‘70s. After transplantation, the newly placed follicles grow an individual’s real hair.

“There are a few different ways these procedures can be performed, but the most common way is to take a strip of hair from the back of the head and remove a couple thousand hair follicles,” said P. Daniel Ward, M.D., the University of Utah Health Care facial plastic surgeon who performed Cody’s transplant. “We close the incision on the back of the head where we harvested the follicles and it heals with a nearly imperceptible scar.”

Interestingly, the back of the head is prime territory for harvesting healthy follicles because that area isn’t affected by male pattern baldness, Ward said. We don’t fully understand all the ins and outs of male baldness, but we do know that baldness is tied to prolonged exposure to testosterone and that it often leads to hair loss on the entire scalp, except for the part on the sides and the back, Ward said.

After follicles are removed, they are isolated and processed one by one. Skin, fat and other scalp components are removed leaving only the follicles, which each may contain one or a few hairs.

“Once the follicles are separated, we make small punctures and implant the hair follicles inside those punctures,” said Ward, noting the follicles get to work growing new hair in their new location.

Stubble usually begins to appear about three months after the procedure, and patients should expect to know the full results at about 18 months after the transplant.

“Our goal is not to give you the hair you had when you were 17 years old,” Ward said. “Our goal is to give you natural-looking, age-appropriate hair.”

The procedure can take as long as 6-8 hours and is performed using local anesthesia with possible sedation. In between harvesting and transplanting follicles, the patient can walk around, go to the restroom and grab a bite to eat.

While baldness is typically linked to men, the procedure is effective for women too.

“Increasingly, people are finally giving female alopecia the attention it deserves,” Ward said. “Women have hair loss too and it may happen to a much greater degree than any of us think.”

As for Cody, he’s thrilled with the results. When he told his family and friends that he planned to undergo hair transplantation, he got a confused response. They wanted to know “why?”

It was about feeling better about himself, explained Cody, who is growing hair on the top of his head for the first time in years.

“The results are amazing,” he said. “They’ve all started to grow. I will probably need one more procedure to get it as thick as I want it. We knew that going in. Dr. Ward was very clear going in.”

When the stubble began to sprout, Cody couldn’t stop examining his scalp in the mirror.

“When you see them start to come in, you’re looking every day wondering when more will come in,” Cody said. “I have a friend who had [the procedure] who said ‘Stop looking. Look in the mirror in a year, and you’ll love it.’”