I can remember the first time someone told me I was going bald, I was seventeen, and it was devastating and depressing. Getting old before your time makes you feel you have lost control and “friends” just love to remind you about it!
My first experience of hair transplants was back in 1978 when I was twenty-one, obviously well before the Internet. I had seen a newspaper advert, and I can remember a man with a very full head of hair, none of it transplanted, discussing the procedure with me. Today, if a twenty-one year old visits a reputable restoration clinic, there will be significant discussion over whether this is the right time and whether alternative procedures are available. Back then, however, this “consultant” didn’t want anything more than my money, and gave no explanation of how the transplant would happen or look.
I wish I had instead consulted with someone who was interested in giving me the best advice for me, and not a quick sale. Yet I was convinced, and I had just five hundred grafts transplanted, which is half of what is considered a “small procedure” today (it’s less than an eyebrow transplant). In those days though, it was a big deal. I can remember the sound of the plugs being removed from my head and that my head was then bandaged up like a balaclava for my over night stay. Again so different from today’s methods where you can watch a movie during the procedure. I also had to stay overnight, whereas today a patient can go back to his hotel or even go home afterwards. The next morning when they took the bandages off it felt like my head swelled up like a balloon. For comparison, bandages are not even required with today’s surgeries… typically a hat will suffice.
Having had the bandages removed and my head feeling very strange, I then managed to bang the top of my head as I got into my car! All that would have been worth it if the hair grew as well as it does today, but unfortunately it grew in clumps, in a pattern commonly known as “doll’s hair”. Several celebrities had the same procedure and it was very noticeable and unnatural. I would later realise that those five hundred grafts had used up large amounts of donor hair that I could have used for FUT procedures years later.
Those five hundred grafts did grow, albeit in a strange pattern, but as my natural hair thinned the grafts became more noticeable and by the time I reached thirty-two I needed to do something about it. I remember seeing an advert which showed a before and after picture of Greg Matthews, an Australian cricketer. The photos showed him very bald before and with a full head of hair after. I was seduced and I wanted his hair. The brochures I received showed lots of guys with great looking hair and beautiful women, all very enticing to anyone like me desperate to have more hair. The brochure talked about them undergoing the “strand by strand” procedure — nowhere did it mention the word wig! It was this great marketing that obviously blinded me from the fact they were selling wigs. For years after I wondered how they sold me a wig (or a hair system as they call it), when what I really wanted was a transplant. Having met many people who did exactly the same as me, at least I wasn’t the only one taken in by the sales pitch.
I knew within two hours of having the system fitted I had made a big mistake. How could I go back to work looking like this on Monday? I went back and asked them to take more hair out of the wig, but even after that it was still very obvious. I spent the next week having people visit my office for any reason to talk to my hair! I eventually had to email everybody and tell them what I had done, very embarrassing. Each month I had to return to have the wig removed so they could re-colour it as it faded in the sun. They would then clean my scalp and cut my hair before refitting the wig. I was realising how much all this was costing me. Having paid out a few thousand for the wig, I was committed to paying them every month for a refit.
During the next two years I endured a very unhappy time. The wig was too hot in the sun, for effectively, I was wearing a hat, except I also needed to wear a hat on top of the wig to reduce fading. Try wearing two hats on holiday. It was very uncomfortable.
After a couple of years they told me the wig was in need of replacement. Another large bill was looming for something I had grown to hate. The wig was uncomfortable and the heat became more noticeable as it approached the refit time and made me paranoid everyone was looking at it, I had to get out of it now!
I worked out a plan of escape; I went to the company to remove the wig then went and had my first follicular-unit transplant procedure. Ten days after the procedure I got them to put the wig system back on, careful not to glue down or attach to the new grafts.
Eight months after the procedure, I removed the system and was free of it forever.
I was so happy with having my own natural hair again, I moved into the business of helping other people get their hair back and feel as good as I did. I went over ten years with my new hair without the need to add more but then I decided I wanted to have a stronger front hair line. Working now with a leading hair transplant clinic, I had the new hairline designed and transplanted by one of our own surgeons at our Malaga clinic. I liked the new hairline, it looked natural for my age and yet made me feel and look years younger, given I was single and dating at this point, that was no bad thing.
The hair grew strongly, thickening up over nine months and this was despite me having very poor donor hair caused by those plug grafts I had done thirty years ago. I admit I envy some of the people I meet in consultations who have really strong donor hair, if that was me, my own hair would be much fuller than I can achieve.
Being keen to thicken up my hair even more, I asked the medical team to transfer the hair from my back (something I and many men hate) using the FUE technique to the top of my scalp for more density. Once again though, decisions made in the past had thwarted that idea. Several years ago I tried laser light therapy, designed to remove the hair from my back, it didn’t actually work, but it did damage the hair roots making most of them unsuitable for a transplant. The result of all my hair experiences has enabled me to advise many people on the best path for them to take. We actually turn away many people as we can tell them either, they are not ready yet, or there are other methods to consider. When you have had bad experiences yourself you do not want others to make similar mistakes.
Having hair makes me feel happier and more confident. Why is that? I have no idea, it just does. And to those people who tell me I should just have gone bald gracefully, I reply, “Why should I when I can have my hair back?”
Again, if only I had been educated in the past, I could have saved myself a lot of wasted worry and money. It now brings me substantial joy to be able to share my experiences face to face and help people restore their own hair.
– Paul Oliver June 1, 2011