Hair No More: Adjunct Instructor Donates Hair to Locks of Love
What began as a bet among friends, turned out to be a long-term commitment for Todd Gilbert.
Nearly two years ago, Gilbert, a paramedic for Eagle Med and an adjunct instructor in the EMT-Paramedic program at Meridian Technology Center, and two of his friends decided to ditch their regular trips to the barber shop and let their hair down for a good cause.
The trio challenged each other to support Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that designs hairpieces for children who have experienced hair loss stemming from alopecia areata, a medical condition that has no known cause or cure. Locks of Love uses donated hair to create custom wigs that are provided to patients at no cost or at a reduced rate, based on their financial need.
It took 20 months for Gilbert’s hair to reach the required 10-inch minimum length to be donated to Locks of Love. During that time, he never cut the length and only kept the area just above his ears trimmed.
“I am ready,” he said waiting for his transformation in the salon chair in the Cosmetology program at Meridian. “I am actually beyond ready. I basically agreed to this whole thing because I didn’t really think that either of them would go through with it. I had no idea it would go on this long.”
For a clean-cut guy who spent most of his life with a traditional military cut, Gilbert described having hair that grazed his shoulders as a little more than out of his comfort zone. “There were days where I literally had to wear two stocking caps to try to get it to lay down,” he said wringing his hands while remembering.
Despite knowing he was doing something good for someone else, he conceded that along the way there were a few growing pains.
The first rough patch came just three months into the process. Frustrated with his hair’s refusal to transition into a manageable hairstyle, he remembered telling his mother that he was going to cut it.
Her response quickly put things in perspective and changed his moaning into motivation.
“She reminded me that the discomfort that I had was nothing compared to what the kids who had the disease were feeling. That’s when I realized my frustration was only temporary. I quit complaining after that and just kept focused on the mission to grow it out,” he said.
As time went on, Gilbert, a colon cancer survivor, found himself more and more determined to succeed in reaching his goal.
“It became something bigger than me. It was more than just letting my hair grow. It was about giving someone else hope,” he explained. “I knew that I couldn’t give up no matter how much I wanted to at different stages along the way.”
Once he made up his mind to complete the challenge, nothing was going to change his course. While his employers were supportive of his decision, that wasn’t always the case for other people that Gilbert interacted with. From doctors to nurses to patients, he said he frequently found himself explaining his ever-changing-look, especially before his hair was long enough to tuck neatly in a ponytail.
“It is amazing how people begin to treat you differently just because of the way you look,” he said. “On one hand I get that it’s not 1970 anymore, but in the end, it is just hair.”
Back to the Buzz
When it came time for Gilbert to let loose of his locks, the choice to get it cut at Meridian was an easy one. As an instructor in the school’s EMT program, he was familiar with the Cosmetology program and the full-service salon operated by students.
Locks of Love has specific criteria for the donation process including length and the method hair must be cut to be effective in the prosthetic process. Daytime instructor Sue Ann Paine and her students welcomed the learning opportunity.
There is no guarantee that Gilbert’s hair will be selected to create a hairpiece for a patient, but that is OK by him. Hair that is unable to be turned into a wig is sold by Locks of Love and proceeds are used to offset the organization’s manufacturing costs.
“When I started this process it was simply about growing out my hair. That changed along the way,” he said. “Suddenly it wasn’t about hair. It was about hope. It was about awareness. Ultimately, it became a testament to the will to help someone not because you have to, but because you can.”