Overcoming the trauma of Alopecia Areata

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Bryce Virdell placed 1st in the Junior High Boys Division.

Photo by Angelica Zamora

By Lisa Morton

Van Horn Junior High School 8th grader Bryce Virdell has taken the spotlight after placing first in his cross country running debut last week in a slightly-challenging desert course just west of the baseball field at CCAISD.  Bryce has been a long-distance runner since the young age of 7, when he would ask his father to let him run along-side his car, sometimes for two miles.

  Unfortunately, at the tender age of 10, he was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, or AA. His hair just began to slowly fall out, starting with his head, then eyebrows, eyelashes and the rest of his body.  Thought to be brought on by severe stress, there is no cure for AA or specific findings related to the disease, which affects 6.5 million people.

Bryce’s parents, Eric and Missy Virdell, tried changing his diet and used organic treatments to help alleviate the misery of the pain he suffers, but with little affect.  His parents have since decided to offer their support in dealing with his condition, and just let him be who he is.  His friends are very supportive as well, and even offered to shave their heads to show their solidarity, but he didn’t let them.

Bryce continues to run with the same passion he had as a child every chance he gets, and his father has joined him in numerous 5k events.  There is something else that motivates Bryce to run– the memory of his brother, Gage, who passed away March 13, 2000 at only 3 months of age from leukemia.  Missy Virdell, Bryce’s mother commented, “It’s really hard to lose a child especially at such a young age and our first born. So, when Bryce was losing hair, it was a very scary deal for us. Not knowing what Alopecia was at the time had us really worried. You can imagine the questions and the heartache we felt. There was no doubt that once we knew what we were dealing with, our family would get through it together. We have always been a very close family and rely on each other to be there.”

Bryce provided a glimpse into his life and his struggles, “When I was diagnosed with Alopecia, I wanted to just give up running and hide.   My Dad took it hard but kept pushing me to just be myself and do what I love and that motivated me to become a better person and a better athlete.  I see people stare at me and some make comments but that just makes me want to push harder.  I want people to know who I am and fight for those that are different.  I was really nervous but confident that I could do it.  I just want people to be proud of me and our school and this is just a small step to make that happen.  Winning my first Cross Country meet was a dream come true and I know I will continue to push myself forward in life.”

Alopecia Areata, is an autoimmune disorder that mistakenly attacks hair follicles on all parts of the body.  September is Alopecia Areata Awareness Month, and is commemorated with a blue ribbon.  Many events are planned nationwide to not only educate the public, but to help remove the stigma and embarrassment of not having hair as part of one’s identity.