Sunday, February 29, 2004

Hats off to Anderson Twp. woman's show of courage

By Anna Michael
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Anne Pielage of Anderson Township sings the responsorial psalm in the church choir at Immaculate Heart of Mary.
For the Enquirer/MIKE SIMONS

ANDERSON TWP. - Anne Pielage figures if God wanted her to have hair, she'd have it.

So after years of dealing with the emotional stress from a rare disease that causes hair loss, she's stopped trying to cover it up and learned to accept it.

She often stands in front of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, singing at Saturday evening Mass.

"I think to get up there and sing is a way of embracing who I am," she said. "I can't hide it and going up there without hair is not going to make me sing any worse or better."

But Pielage admits she felt sick to her stomach walking up to the pulpit the first time after shaving her remaining wisps of hair, at a 40th birthday party her husband threw for her themed: "Should it stay or should it go?"

Alopecia areata is an unpredictable autoimmune skin disease that causes the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body.

According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, 4.7 million people living in the United States have the disease.

"We are not sure what the trigger is. Something in or around the hair follicle signals the immune system that it is bad, so it attacks it," said Vicki Kalabokes, president and CEO of the foundation.

Pielage noticed the first signs of the disease when she was 14 years old. Doctors blamed the quarter-sized bald spot on her head on stress and gave her an ointment.

Through high school and college, Pielage says, bald spots would come and go.

Pielage no longer is waiting for her hair to return. She knows that she may be bald forever and she is OK with that. "I think what is really neat is she's able to get in front of all those people and she is not self-conscious," said Dave Auxier, director of music and literacy at her church.

"The confidence comes from just accepting it," she says.


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