Real love

Published 5:08 am Saturday, April 8, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Alexie Maxwell wasn't overly enthused about losing 10 inches of hair. The nine-year-old had always had long, straight blonde hair that stretched to the middle of her back. Now, she had to consider cutting a large part of it off.
"She wasn't so sure she wanted to do that," Alexie's mother, Lisa, said.
But on Thursday afternoon, Lisa, Alexie and six-year-old Alayna were at Country Stylists in Niles, where mom and Alexie would each have nearly one foot of hair chopped off.
Alexie was the first to climb up to the chair. Stylist Marilyn Bowman combed Alexie's hair back into a ponytail and used a 10-inch piece of green ribbon to measure the desired length.
With the hair tie in place, Bowman grabbed for the scissors with her right hand, and, one quick snip later, had a lock of hair in her left.
The hair was kept in a pony tail so it could be donated to Locks of Love. The not-for-profit organization turns the donations into hairpieces for children suffering from medical hair loss and who are unable to pay for the hair prosthetics.
The majority of those who receive help from Locks of Love suffer from a condition called alopecia areata.
The autoimmune disease causes the immune system to attack hair follicles instead of viruses and bacteria and eventually can cause permanent hair loss.
Many of the other recipients are not able to grow hair back because of severe burns or radiation treatment to the brainstem.
Locks of Love has set a few guidelines for donations. The hair must be at least 10 inches long, bundled in a pony tail or braid, free of chemical damage from dying and must be clean and dry.
At least six ponytails are needed for one piece, which in the end retails at a cost between $3,500 to $6,000. Plus, making the custom-fit prosthetics is a four to sixth month process.
The Maxwells first heard about Locks of Love a few years ago through one of Alexie's friends in kindergarten.
Lisa said they were looking over the Locks of Love website one day and were touched by the before and after photos of the young kids. "They're very dramatic," Lisa said.
Lisa said Alexie knew how much she loved her own hair and seeing the photos made the decision to donate a lot easier.
Bowman also made the day a lot easier. She co-owns Country Stylists with her sister-in-law Peggy Ellis and is a "shirt tail" relation of the Maxwells. Lisa said she has been going to Country Stylists since 1989, and even had Bowman do her hair on her wedding day.
Bowman said she has already had a few other customers come in to get haircuts for donations to Locks of Love.
It is a characteristic of the Maxwell family of Buchanan to help others in need, Lisa said, and this was an easy way to lend a hand.
"Our family has done mission trips and we're reminded about trying to help people," Lisa said, whose husband is Thomas.
Lisa said her oldest daughter, 11-year-old Adriana, is currently growing her hair to donate as well, and, three-year-old Annalise may someday help too.
As for Alexie, she smiled and tugged on the ends of her hair. Lisa said it was the most each of them had ever had cut off before. "It's short," Alexie said with blush red cheeks.
It was her first hair cut in more than a year.