Brenna was crying. She sat in a barber’s chair, hair pulled back, her ponytail just moments away from being cut off. The hairdresser holding the scissors was crying. Those watching the scene were also in tears.
Snip! Brenna’s long hair, which had taken years to grow out, was gone. Her ponytail would now become a gift, a donation to an organization called Locks of Love. It would be combined with other donated hair and made into wigs for children who had lost their hair because of cancer treatment or who suffer from alopecia, a permanent hair-loss condition.
Brenna Reaney is just one of the Young Women in the Redondo First Ward, Torrance California Stake, who donated hair. For Brenna, the sacrifice of her long hair represented something concrete she could do to help Jessica James, one of her friends from the ward. Jessica, 17, had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a life threatening illness that would require chemotherapy treatment. At first, the girls were upset that Jessica would lose her beautiful long hair. But after Jessica had a brain hemorrhage and sank into a coma, they quickly realized that they had not understood the full spectrum of what was important. As Peggy Kirts, a member of the ward, said, “It’s been a very helpless couple of months, with everyone wanting to help and not really knowing what to do or how to do it.”
The girls would visit Jessica in the hospital as she struggled to awaken from the coma and learn again to communicate. While there, they saw many little bald children in the same area of the hospital undergoing treatment. They read to Jessica and sat with her, but they felt that they wanted to do more.
Sister Kirts, a professional hairdresser, met a family who had come to her salon for haircuts. They were donating their hair as their family’s Christmas project. From them she got the information about donating hair and did a little research. A minimum of 10 inches of hair was needed, bound in a ponytail. Especially needed was fine, light colored hair that would be more appropriate for children’s wigs.
With some hesitation, Sister Kirts presented the idea to the girls in her ward. It wouldn’t help Jessica directly, but the donation of their hair would help other girls and boys. At first, the thought was stunning. Ten inches! That was so much. “They were petrified at first,” said Sister Kirts. “I didn’t want to pressure them. But later that day, the phone just started ringing. And, one at a time, the girls called and said, ‘I’m in.’ I couldn’t believe that they would do it.”
The word spread through the ward. Even two little girls from Primary joined the Young Women in donating their hair. The local newspaper and a television station covered the event because so many girls were donating their hair at the same time. And at Christmastime, people could not help but compare this event to O. Henry’s story “Gift of the Magi,” about a young couple who each gives up the thing they value most to buy a gift for the other. In the story, the young wife sells her long hair to buy a chain for her husband’s heirloom watch. He, in turn, sells the watch to buy combs for his wife’s beautiful hair.
After the young women’s story aired on the news and was printed in the newspaper, the salon offered to cut the hair of anyone who wanted to donate it. Dozens of people responded. “Teenagers have so much power for good or for bad,” said Sister Kirts. “For these people who came to donate their hair, their biggest reason was that if an 18-year-old girl can do this, I can too.”
Rachael Ward, another of the Young Women in the Redondo First Ward, was a little frightened to go back to school after Christmas vacation with her new short hair. “It was awful waiting for that day. Everyone noticed my hair, even people I didn’t know before. A lot of people looked at me differently. They said it made them realize that people really do good deeds for each other. It’s not just a story on television. That made me feel good.”
Rachael’s friend Brittanie Streetmaker also donated her hair. “I was nervous, but now whenever I look in the mirror, I think of a little girl who will be so happy to have a cute styled wig. My friends ask me if I miss my hair, and I say I do, but I don’t regret it for a second.”
Editor’s note: Jessica is home from the hospital. She still suffers from partial paralysis and is continuing treatment for aplastic anemia. She loves the way the girls sacrificed to help others.