Operation Restore is the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery’s (ISHRS) pro-bono program, designed to match prospective hair restoration patients suffering from hair loss as a result of an accident, trauma or disease with physicians willing to help people who lack the resources to obtain treatment on their own. Since its inception in 2004, Operation Restore has provided more than $100,000 worth of free hair restoration surgery and expenses for more than a dozen patients suffering from hair loss due to these circumstances.
Today, Operation Restore boasts a membership of 61 ISHRS volunteer physicians worldwide who are committed to restoring not just hair, but the diminished sense of self-image and self-esteem that often occurs when a person suffers from unexpected hair loss. In 2008 alone, six patients – ranging in age from 11 to 37 – have been accepted by Operation Restore to receive pro-bono hair restoration surgery services.
The following are three case studies of Operation Restore patients who have successfully completed hair restoration surgery courtesy of the ISHRS and its member volunteers (pre-op and post-op photos of each patient follow these case studies). Their stories are unique, but each has one thing in common with all the Operation Restore grant recipients – they likely would not have had their hair restored without this program.
To educate the public on the causes and available solutions for hair loss, the ISHRS website, www.ishrs.org, provides patients with the resources to make informed medical decisions and locate a hair restoration physician in their area.
When 4-year-old Mitchel Brock was in the basement trying to help out his father by pouring gasoline into the lawn mower, he accidentally spilled some fuel onto the floor – and himself. Firefighters told Mitchel’s mom that the fumes alone had burst into flames, ignited by the pilot light on the water heater. Mitchel was burned by the blast and the gas that he had spilled on his hands and legs. His head was burned so deeply because he had rubbed his head with his hands that were also covered in gasoline. As a result, Mitchel spent two months at the burn center of a Seattle, Wash., hospital where he underwent a series of painful skin grafts. The procedures reduced visible scarring on his scalp but did nothing to restore his hair.
For a young boy, having a completely bald area on the left side of his scalp meant endless stares and teasing by his classmates who didn’t understand his terrible misfortune. At age 11, Mitchel’s parents became increasingly concerned that Mitchel’s hair loss could affect his overall high school experience because of how he looked. While they were willing to do whatever they could for him, hair restoration surgery wasn’t an option – as it was not covered by their health insurance, and they simply couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery on their own.
Fortunately, Mitchel became the first patient to receive an Operation Restore grant to cover the cost of hair restoration surgery, courtesy of the ISHRS. He was matched with local hair restoration physician and Operation Restore founding member Dr. Tony Mangubat in 2004 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mitchel’s hair restoration surgery involved a three-step surgical procedure. The first step involved a technique called tissue expansion, which facilitates hair restoration by stretching healthy, hair-covered scalp tissue that will be used to cover the bald area. In this procedure, an implant is placed under the scalp next to the area of hair loss and slowly inflated over the course of several months. As it increases in size, the tissue compensates by stretching the skin and stimulating the growth of new tissue.
Next, the area of Mitchel’s scalp lacking hair follicles was removed and then covered by the newly expanded, hair-covered tissue. During the third surgical procedure, some of the hair follicles are transplanted to the bald area to restore a natural-looking hairline and to fill in areas of sparse coverage.
Today, at age 15, Mitchel said he “feels a lot better.” His mother, Cheryl, is grateful that Operation Restore and Dr. Mangubat were able to help her son.
For 48-year-old Cynthia Bush of St. Petersburg, Fla., her hair loss resulted from an operation to remove a self-contained malignant tumor, known as a Dermatofibrous sarcoma, which had been growing on the back of her head from the time she was born. Since so much tissue had to be removed along with the 2-inch tumor, her doctor needed to use a graft to close the wound. The radiation therapy she underwent afterward in that area for six weeks killed the hair follicles around the graft – resulting in a postcard-sized bald spot that couldn’t adequately be covered with the hair that now only grew from the top of her head.
“At the time of my cancer surgery in 1986, there was not much that could be done in the way of hair replacement for my type of hair loss,” said Cynthia. “So for 16 years, I had to make do with my thinly veiled bald spot on the back of my head. When I turned 40, an acquaintance embarrassed me by pointing out my bald spot to others, which prompted me to do something about it.”
For three years, Cynthia invested in a temporary hair treatment that used partial wigs glued onto the bald spot that needed to be removed every month. Eventually, this routine irritated her skin and her dermatologist, ISHRS member Dr. Paul Rose of Tampa, Fla., a founding member of Operation Restore, referred her to the ISHRS’s pro-bono program.
From this recommendation, Cynthia met another founder of Operation Restore, Seattle-area hair restoration surgeon Dr. Tony Mangubat – who performed the Scalp Expansion surgery required to restore her hair. Two surgeries were required. The first surgery involved having an implant surgically placed in her scalp that was injected three times a week with saline, causing the implant to expand and in turn stretched her skin on her scalp. Six months later, Dr. Mangubat removed the implant and the excess skin was used to cover her bald spot.
“Dr. Mangubat and the ISHRS have changed my life,” said Cynthia. “My confidence and self-esteem have soared, and my family and friends are still amazed at this miracle of how I got my hair back. I can’t say enough about my experience.”
John Mangan, Jr.
When 43-year-old John Mangan, Jr., of Cranston, R.I., looks in the mirror these days, he is not reminded of the tragic nightclub fire that made national headlines in February 2002. That’s because the 2nd and 3rd degree burns he suffered on many parts of his body and scalp have been successfully treated with surgeries, including the resulting hair loss that occurred on the top of his head.
“My baldness was a constant reminder of the tragedy, and it made it difficult for me to heal emotionally,” said John. “It kept me down and, at times, depressed. I began researching how to address my baldness. After much research, it seemed that a hair transplant or a wig were the best solutions. I knew that I did not want to wear a wig for the rest of my life, so I began visiting hair restoration doctors. It became clear to me that it wasn’t likely that I could afford hair restoration surgery on my salary. That is, until I met Dr. Mark DiStefano.”
Dr. DiStefano, a New England-based hair restoration physician and member of the ISHRS, evaluated John’s hair loss and explained that he could perform a procedure to replace his lost hair with natural-looking, dense hair. Knowing that John’s financial situation was an issue, Dr. DiStefano encouraged him to apply to the ISHRS’s Operation Restore program to cover the costs of the surgery. John followed his advice and was selected for the program.
Over the course of several months, John underwent a series of three scalp expansion surgeries to remove scar tissue. The remaining two surgeries successfully restored John’s hair on the top of his head – and restored his emotional well-being.
“When people see me now, they can’t believe I even lost my hair,” added John. “Having my hair restored has helped me move on physically and emotionally. I am very grateful to the ISHRS’s Operation Restore program and Dr. DiStefano for their generosity and dedication in helping people like me who otherwise couldn’t afford hair restoration surgery.”