Like most of us, Dr. Garrett A. Wirth takes pride in his appearance. As a UC Irvine Health aesthetics and plastic surgery physician, his clean-cut, well-groomed appearance projects a professional, competent image, reinforcing the confidence his patience feel in putting their trust in his hands.
So it was somewhat surprising a few years ago when he began to grow his hair long. And longer. And longer still. It seemed to his patients and colleagues alike that the good doctor was, for some reason, neglecting his regular grooming routine. What was going on?
Donating hair to cancer patients
It all started when his wife Christine asked him to grow his hair out just a bit so she could see his curls again. Then Hannah, the fifth of the six Wirth children, and youngest daughter, asked if he was going to grow his hair long enough to donate it to help cancer patients, like she had done. The previous year, when Hannah heard her dad talk about a young girl who was going to lose her hair while undergoing chemotherapy, she decided to grow her hair out so the girl could have a wig. Just 10 years old at the time, Hannah had grown a 14-inch ponytail tail and donated it to Locks of Love.
“That was a very mature decision Hannah had made at such a young age,” Wirth said. “You know how you want your kids to be proud of you, so I took on the challenge.”
Wirth was touched by the Pantene® Beautiful Lengths program, a partnership with the American Cancer Society® that helps “give self-confidence back to a special woman who is battling cancer so that she can fight the disease with a little more dignity.”
Hair donation requirements
Men must donate at least six inches of hair and women must donate at least eight. The hair cannot be more than five percent gray, and cannot have been color treated or processed in the six months preceding the donation. Through HairUWear, real hair wigs are donated to cancer victims. Each wig requires at least six hair donations.
“I do a great deal of breast reconstruction. We are leaders in our field, and do amazing work here, offering our patients a complete range of reconstruction options that are not offered in most places,” Wirth said.
“I travel down part of that journey with the patients who have breast cancer. I help them reclaim a part of their lives by doing that reconstruction and by caring for them as a whole person. I am blessed that they choose me to work with them. I am always honored that they put that confidence in me.”
18 months to donate
Hair only grows about an inch a month, so it took the doctor a year-and-a-half to grow a 10-inch ponytail. He made his donation in December 2013.
“At first I had to use a lot of product to control my hair, but when I took my scrub cap off after surgery, it would be all poofy. When it reached the ponytail stage, patients who recommended their family and friends had to tell them not to worry about the ponytail when they met me,” he said. “As much as I did not like the process of dealing with all that hair, I am a goal-oriented person, so I followed through on the commitment that I had made to myself, my family and the cancer patient.”
What had begun as a family affair ended as a family affair. When it was time to cut the ponytail off, stylist Grace Caponera, mother-in-law of Wirth’s oldest daughter, Kerilee, did the honors.
“It was a win-win situation. I was able to help one more person with a wig, build stronger bonds with my family, and help get the word out about the BeautifulLengths program,” Wirth said. “I believe that donating my hair was one very small part of helping someone get through the process of fighting and hopefully beating, cancer.”