July 11, 2019 -- Rosie Quinn was 2 years old when she started losing her hair. She was 3 when she noticed other children staring and pointing at her. Now at age 8, she’s embraced being bald, and she helps other kids who’ve lost hair due to medical conditions.
“She’s very loving, and she’s so empathetic. Maybe it’s because she has a difference herself,” says her mother, Paula Quinn.
Rosie has alopecia, a non-contagious disease that makes you lose patches of hair. The type Rosie has is rare and severe -- she’s lost all of the hair on her body.
To help her daughter feel more comfortable about being bald, years ago Paula took a painting Rosie made of a rainbow and printed it on a headscarf.
“She spent a good 5 minutes looking in the mirror, putting it on ... and she innocently turned and looked at me and said, ‘Can I give this to all the bald kids?’” Paula says. “For like the next 6 months, every other day, she would ask.”
Rosie’s persistence paid off. She inspired her mom to create Coming Up Rosies, a nonprofit organization that turns children’s paintings and drawings into scarves or superhero capes. The group donates art kits to hospitals and charities. Then, after a child designs their masterpiece, their parents can upload it to Coming Up Rosies’ website to get it made.
The group is quickly achieving its goal of bringing some happiness and comfort to children with serious health problems, especially kids with a condition that brings on baldness. Since its launch in 2016, Coming Up Rosies says it has donated more than 1,000 “Smile Kits” to 16 children’s hospitals across the U.S.
"My dream is that bald kids like me can be happy,” Rosie says on the group’s website. “The scarves will help them to love themselves just the way they are. I hope the head scarves make them feel better about themselves and make them smile."
She also helps kids bring their art creations to life during visits she makes with her mom to Ronald McDonald House, where families stay for little to no cost while their child receives hospital treatments.
“To see her interact with children who just had heart surgery, or who are in a wheelchair and are paralyzed, she is right up there saying 'hello' -- she’s such a natural,” Paula says.
Her journey to self-confidence hasn’t been easy. She’s been called names, been pointed at, and has felt people’s stares since she was 3 years old. But Paula and her husband, Larry Quinn, taught their daughter to counter other children’s curiosity (and occasional cruelty) with kindness. They encouraged her to introduce herself and say, “Hi, my name is Rosie. I have alopecia, my hair fell out. What makes you different?”
After years of conversations like these, Rosie’s confidence has soared -- so much so that she no longer wears the stylish scarves that once gave her comfort. “She’s like, ‘I don’t need this anymore. ... I like the way I look,'" Paula says. “And so for me, I’m like, ‘Wow, mission accomplished.’ This is what every parent wants to hear their child say, that they love themselves unconditionally.”
What Is Alopecia?
Its full name is alopecia areata, and it’s a type of autoimmune disease. Your immune system attacks healthy hair follicles. Experts aren’t sure why that happens, but they think your genes and things in the environment could play roles. The disease usually starts during childhood, and it’s possible for lost hair to grow back on its own or with medications.
Rosie’s condition is different, though. She has alopecia universalis (AU), an advanced form of the disease that makes you lose all of the hair on your body. It’s the most severe form of alopecia, says Stephanie Gardner, MD, a dermatologist who’s been practicing in the Atlanta area for 30 years.
“There isn’t a cure for AU today, but sometimes the hair does regrow, even after many years,” Gardner says.
AU has also been the hardest type of alopecia to treat, she says: “There is not currently any reliable treatment, and the ones we have do have some terrible side effects.”
Rosie’s parents decided early on not to continue trying to regrow her hair with treatments for those exact reasons, her mom Paula says. They’d given her steroids and topical creams, but they were concerned that meds might not help or could pose risks. Instead, they focused on boosting Rosie’s self-confidence.
“They have adopted a very healthy view on this very visible disease, and their example can go a long way to help others,” Gardner says. “Some people experience emotional and mental health issues after losing their hair, so support groups, family education, and mental health therapy are helpful.”
She says wigs and hairpieces can also help you feel better about yourself. But if you chose to embrace a bald head, like Rosie does, put sunscreen on it throughout the day, she says.
You can visit the National Alopecia Areata Foundation for more information.