At 6, Madisen Jackan already has a mischievous sense of humor. When she heard her 8-year-old sister, Makayla,
grumbling about having a bad-hair day -- because her waist-length locks were full of knots -- the Granite Falls, Washington, kindergartner started to laugh. "I never have bad-hair days," she announced with a grin. That's because Madisen doesn't have any hair. Not only is she completely bald, but she has no body hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes.
Madisen jokes about it now, but there was a time when she was very sensitive about her looks. Born with a full head of light-blond hair, Madisen developed a small bald spot when she was 2 1/2. Her parents took her to a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes otherwise healthy kids or adults to lose some or all of their hair. The doctor prescribed a steroid cream to apply to her scalp, but the treatment didn't help. By the time Madisen started nursery school, she had only a few strands of hair left. "She was extremely self-conscious," says her mom, Chris. "Madisen always wore a knit cap because she didn't feel comfortable in public without something on her head."
Classmates made fun of Madisen. "They called her 'baby,' because she didn't have any hair," Chris says. "I sat down with the kids and asked how they'd feel if someone called them names." Although her efforts did cut down on the teasing, the negative attention took a toll. "I was at the preschool all the time because Madisen had separation anxiety and didn't want to go anywhere without me," she says. "She was very clingy and didn't make any friends." Chris and her husband, Jeff, hoped that things would be different when their daughter started kindergarten at a new school.
Before classes began in September 2002, Chris and Jeff met with Madisen's teacher, who promised to take their daughter under her wing. Chris also sent all the parents a letter explaining Madisen's disorder. "I didn't want them to think Madisen was dying of cancer," she says. The first day of school, Chris went to class with Madisen in order to talk to the kids. "I told them that alopecia isn't contagious, so their hair wouldn't fall out if they played with Madisen," Chris says. "Then I let them know that she would look different every day, because she has lots of hats, baseball caps, and scarves that she likes to wear. Madisen was very excited to show off her hats, and the kids were very receptive." But there was one thing her mom was still concerned about: "I prayed she'd find a good friend," Chris says.
Soon after starting school, one of Madisen's new classmates, Taylor Schmidt, asked Madisen whether they could play together at recess. "Then, she wanted to play every day, because we liked the same games," Madisen says. The two girls share another bond: Each has a parent named Chris (Madisen's mom and Taylor's dad), and Taylor has a younger sister named Madison. The pair quickly became inseparable.
Taylor didn't care that her new best friend was bald. In fact, she wanted to help. When Taylor heard about a family friend who had donated her ponytail to a group that makes wigs for people who have lost their hair, she announced to her parents that she wanted to give her hair to Madisen. Taylor's mom, Jodi, was amazed that her daughter had come up with the idea and also heartened by her generosity, especially since Taylor was extremely proud of her waist-length golden hair. "She loved to have me brush it, curl it and style it in different ways," Jodi says.
Because Jodi didn't know the Jackans very well, she was reluctant to call them, in case Taylor changed her mind. But every day for a month, Taylor asked her mom whether she could give her hair to Madisen, so finally, Jodi and her husband said yes.
On December 17 of last year, a crowd of relatives, kindergartners, and teachers gathered at Mountain Way Elementary School to witness the haircut -- the first of Taylor's life. Following instructions from Hip Hat, a company that creates hats with real hair attached for girls and women who've lost their hair, a stylist tied Taylor's tresses into four ponytails, then snipped each one off. (For more information, visit www.hiphat.com) Jodi held her breath, not sure how her daughter would react. But Taylor smiled through the haircut, and when it was finished she ran over and hugged her best friend. "I was really happy I did it," Taylor says.
A few weeks later, the special hat was ready: a blue denim cap with long blond locks flowing down the sides. The hair is chemically treated for durability and easy washing. "It's my favorite hat because it came from Taylor," Madisen says. "I put clips and ponytail holders in the hair so I can make different styles." Taylor is equally delighted with her new look. "I like short hair -- it's pretty, and my head feels lighter," she says. But most of all, she adds, "I feel special because I could give my friend what she needed."