MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Hair is a big part of people’s image. From Elvis to Diana Ross to Farrah Fawcett and beyond, it’s a main accessory. A rare disorder robbed Annie Goodroad of all her hair. There is no cure, but there is new hope.

“I was in 8th grade when I first realized I was having bald spots on my head,” Goodroad, of Minneapolis, said.

Her doctor diagnosed her with alopecia areata, which affects 6.8 million Americans. She kept it at bay for years until her freshman year of college, when it truly came to a pinnacle.

“My freshman year of college I lost all of my hair in like two weeks and then I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes,” she said. “It was super traumatic. I remember calling my parents and they said to come home and get fitted for a wig.”

She eventually took the wig off, which meant taking on some uncomfortable situations. It was a physical struggle and an emotional battle.

“I was at a grocery store and someone who thought I had chemo came up to me and asked how long I had to live, which was a glance into the world that a cancer patient must feel every day, especially going through chemo,” she said. “When people would say things like I would be so ugly if I didn’t have hair, I was no longer part of their beauty standard as being bald as being ugly.”

Goodroad worked on her confidence, and worked on finding a solution, trying a variety of painful and tedious treatments. Then, earlier this year, through a trial at the University of Minnesota, she tried taking Xeljanz (Tofacitinib), an arthritis drug, combined with steroid injections.

“We went ahead and gave it a try and then my hair started growing at a pretty fast rate, and curly,” she said.

Dr. Maria Hordinsky has been researching alopecia for decades. She calls Annie’s results outstanding.

“There’s no approved treatment in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, so the treatments that have been tried usually target the immune system, they have been variably successful,” she said.

Until now. She says 65% to 75% of patients see success with this treatment, as seen at the U and at Columbia. It seems people with rheumatoid arthritis have similar genetic markers to alopecia patients.

“These medications don’t offer a cure but they offer a way to control the disease and to control the impact the disease then has on that individual,” Hordinsky said, adding that it’s big news in the alopecia community. “There’s a lot of hope. And there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the alopecia aeriota community as a whole.”

Hodinsky warns, it’s still an unpredictable disease and hair could easily fall out again.

Although success may be fleeting, Goodroad realizes beauty is, too. She feels her own personal beauty, hair or no hair.

“I had to start creating my own standards and living unapologetically by my own beauty standards,” she said.

Hordinsky suggests anyone out there who is interested should have a discussion with their dermatologist. There are clinical trials that are available for some people.

Goodroad takes two pills a day and gets injections every three months. Hordisnky says the goal is 100% growth. Annie is now at 97%.

This treatment is for people who have the autoimmune disease alopecia, not for more common forms of hereditary hair loss.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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