For most of my life I was blessed with thick, curly hair, but for ten years I watched helplessly as it vanished. I kept trying to tell myself the thinning didn't look that bad. Unfortunately, Rogaine didn't work for me, and I didn't want to take oral medication, so the hair loss just got worse and worse. One day I saw a photo of myself at the finish line of a race. Instead of a vibrant middle-aged woman who had just logged 13 miles, I saw only the baldness above my forehead. I told my hairstylist, "I have to do something." He referred me to a hair transplant surgeon. It took me a year to get up the courage to make an appointment. I was terrified of the surgery—but it got to a point where I was more terrified to glimpse my reflection.
Turns out I was the perfect candidate for a transplant because I still had a lot of hair in back—a plentiful "donor area." For one month before the surgery, I had to massage the area between my ears with my fingertips for an hour every day—I did about ten minutes at a time—to loosen the scalp. Apparently this helps with healing after the scalp is stitched back up.
The procedure itself was done at the doctor's office. I was given Lidocaine injections to numb my scalp and an intravenous sedative to keep me relaxed. I reclined in a dentist-style chair in my own sweat suit.
First, the hair to be transplanted was "harvested," meaning that a long strip of scalp was removed from the back of my head. There were about half a dozen people in the room; some of them immediately started dividing the strip of scalp into tiny "follicular units"—circles of hair only about .1 millimeter in diameter. Once my head was stitched back up, we took a lunch break. In the same chair, my IV still in, I ate a sandwich and a brownie. Then back to work: 1,600 units of two to four hair follicles were implanted along my original hairline. The doctor made almost microscopic holes with a hypodermic needle, then inserted the donor hair.
The entire process lasted about nine hours. Through it all, I felt no pain and had little sense of time. Sometimes I dozed off, but mostly I was awake and talking with the doctor and nurses. At home that night, I took the prescription painkillers they gave me, but by the next morning I didn't need pain medicine. Other than a few days of numbness in the back of my head, I had almost no discomfort. There were no bandages, no dressings to change. For the first week, every day twice a day, I had to soak my hair for 20 minutes in the tub and then shampoo it to make sure the incisions in the back of my head stayed clean. On the eighth day, the stitches were removed.
About six months later, I started noticing new growth along my hairline; it took another year to see the full results. Do I have the hair I had at 30? No. Do I have enough hair that no one knows I'm thinning? Absolutely. It was worth the $15,000. And two years later, I still want more. A transplant doesn't stop female pattern hair loss, so I'm going back for one more surgery next week. I plan to look as good as I can as long as I live—and my hair is a huge part of that.
More Solutions for Thinning Hair
From the September 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!