Hair today, bare on March 17

Good Samaritans shave their heads to help cancer research

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2006

Naomi Hooley said she gets compliments on her flowing auburn hair. She even has had people suggest they would pay her not to shave her head March 17 at the Hangar on the Wharf.

"The only reason not to would be a selfish reason," said the 26-year-old woman who works for a lobbying firm in downtown Juneau. More than 20 men and four women in the capital are set to observe St. Patrick's Day by going bald - and calling it St. Baldrick's Day. The event will start at 4:30 p.m.

The idea started in New York in 2000, when three men organized a head-shaving challenge sympathetically to raise money for research into fighting children's cancer. The effort has grown in the six years since. In 2005, The St. Baldrick's Foundation raised $5.3 million.

"They're making a huge dent in cancer research," said local organizer Roy Johnston, who will have his head shaved as part of the team from the local professional firefighters' union.

"Basically, two classrooms of children are diagnosed with cancer every day in the U.S.," he said.

The Juneau event has 10 teams organized, although Hooley signed up as a team of one, as did state Rep. Carl Gatto of Wasilla and legislative aide Cody Rice, who calls his team the Hairless Caucus. Juneau teams already had raised more than $8,000 in donations and pledges coming into the weekend. Johnston has set a personal goal of raising $1,000 and was close to $700.

Capt. Ed Quinto of Capital City Fire and Rescue had already raised more than $2,200, the most of any individual in Juneau. He admits he is looking a little shaggier these days because he isn't going to get a haircut only weeks before getting his head shaved. "It sticks up a little bit," he said. But normally he wears it longer than some firefighters.

"This head of mine has never seen the light of day," Quinto said.

He is passionate about getting it shaved because he is passionate about the cause. His 6-year-old nephew, Alex Cesar, has leukemia. Last year Alex's family worked on a statewide drive to find a bone-marrow match.

March 17 will also be Alex's birthday. Alex, though, doesn't understand the head-shaving thing, his uncle said.

"He equates being bald with being sick," Quinto said. The chemotherapy children undergo when being treated for cancer makes their hair fall out.

Alex also doesn't understand why he feels sick and why he can't go out to play with other children, his uncle added.

Hooley said Rice mentioned the idea to her, joking that she could raise a lot with her hair. But she said she isn't doing it as a dare. In addition to raising donations, she will donate her hair to Locks of Love. The nonprofit organization provides hairpieces to financially disadvantage children 18 and younger suffering from long-term medical hair loss. Hooley hopes her hair helps a girl with cancer enjoy her prom.

When Hooley was in school in Wasilla, she recalled knowing a girl with "horrible" hair. One day the girl took her aside and showed her it was a wig and told her she was being treated for cancer. She shared a bond with the girl after that, she said.

Friday, Hooley figured she had raised about $1,400. People can make donations by looking up teams in Juneau on the St. Baldrick's Foundation Web site:

Three of the 10 teams are connected to the fire department. The only other Alaska St. Baldrick's event, scheduled for Fairbanks, also has nine firefighting teams signed up.

Andrea Quinto, whose brother is Alex Cesar's father, said firefighters were supportive when she was working to find possible bone-marrow matches for her nephew. And she knows the fundraising is making a difference because research found the transplant that saved Alex's life. "Ten years ago, my nephew would have died," she said. "Imagine where they'll be in another five years."

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