Support Group Leader Spotlight: Liz Albrecht
At 82, Liz Albrecht has a unique perspective on how things have evolved over four generations for the alopecia areata community.
Liz is a phone support contact for Johnston, Iowa, who also holds one or two in-person meetings per year, and she has generously offered to share her memories and views on having alopecia areata these past eight decades.
Eighty years of alopecia! During those years much has evolved; there is increased awareness of the disease, a more defined/accurate diagnosis, and a better selection of hair pieces. When I lost my hair in 1938, in desperation my parents took me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The doctors there said, “Just take her home and love her.” And that they did!
However, my mother wasn’t ready to give up. The following winter she took me to California to be in the sunshine. My parents thought maybe that would make my hair grow, but it didn’t work. Time went on, and I covered my head with a scarf and I had a pretty “normal” life. Nobody teased me, I had lots of friends, I rode my bike, I did lots of swimming with a cap on, I played in the band, I took dancing, I was in school plays, et cetera. After much convincing from my mother, we travelled back to California in 1952, and there we stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and walked to Max Factor for my first wig. Returning to my hometown “with hair” was one of the toughest things I have ever done. I shed many tears but pushed my way through. This is a lifesaving trait I got from my dad.
During my first 45 years I thought I was the only person with total body hair loss.
I graduated Iowa State University and moved to Boone, Iowa. I married, had 4 children, directed a swim program and taught school. I eventually blamed my hair loss for my failed marriage. Relationships and intimacy were tough. I kept trying to be “normal.”
In 1982-83, I moved to Des Moines to attend Drake University where I received my Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehab. My treatise was about alopecia, and I developed a program to educate children about the disease. I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, to meet with a doctor to get information about alopecia, and while in his office he said Ashley Siegel from California was in town. She was involved in a support group called National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). I completed my meeting and sped across town to Ashley’s hotel. After our long visit, the negative thoughts about hair loss left my mind and never returned. My life changed. I put together a program and designed a coloring book for classrooms with students who had AA. During several random class visits I found three students with alopecia areata. How glorious! I eventually married again and am still happily married.
I have continued to be involved with our Iowa Support Group, which is very rewarding, and my husband and I have a great life.