'God knew I was going to lose my hair so I don't have to worry about it'
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has a star ambassador in Brooke Ferguson.
The engaging 10-year-old isn't afraid to champion others living with the autoimmune disease.
She visited a school in North Portland to speak up for a third-grade boy being teased for being bald.
Before entering her new school, she stood in front of an assembly educating her peers about the non-contagious medical condition that prompted her to shave her head.
And, the confident fourth-grader inspired the Errol Hassell Elementary School community to host a Locks of Love event during the April 26 carnival to allow families to donate their hair for the creation of wigs for children with medical conditions that cause hair loss.
'Brooke has done such an amazing job of teaching others and that is a remarkable feat for someone so young,' said Errol Hassell Principal Teresa Clemens-Brower. 'She has an inner beauty and spark that just shine through.
'Her resilience impresses me. Brooke has experienced some difficult things, but at the same time, she has a willingness to go with the flow, change and make the best of every situation. By Brooke being so open, she's taught our students not to make assumptions about others based on first impressions and appearances.'
A few years ago, Brooke was diagnosed with alopecia areata, a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body.
'When Brooke was 7, I was playing with her hair when I found a little bald patch,' recalled Denise Ferguson, Brooke's mom. 'It was smooth and perfectly round.'
After making sure none of Brooke's older siblings had done something to her hair, Denise called a doctor and took Brooke in for a visit, where she learned her daughter had alopecia areata.
Wanting to learn more about the condition, Denise and her husband Scott looked it up on the Internet.
'I remember thinking, 'Oh my goodness,'' Denise said. 'I was devastated. Brooke had no idea that over time she would become bald.
'As her mom, I know what she's up against when she walks out the door. I think it was harder on me than it was for her.'
Brooke nodded her head in agreement.
'When I lost 60 to 70 percent of my hair, I just decided to shave it off,' Brooke said matter-of-factly.
Looking over at her mom, she talked about Denise's resistance to the idea at first.
'I kept telling her, 'I want to do it. Don't worry, I'm sure,'' Brooke said.
Two weeks later the then 8-year-old convinced her parents it was time and the whole family took turns cutting off little ponytails.
'It was a pretty special event,' Denise said. 'What convinced me that it was time was when Brooke told me, 'God knew I was going to lose my hair so I don't have to worry about it.'
'That was pivotal to me. Her strength, strengthened me.'
As her parents researched treatments - because there is no known cause or cure for the skin disease - Brooke embraced her new no-fuss look.
Ruling out painful cortisone shots, application of topical ointments, and a strict all-natural, organic diet, the Fergusons decided to follow Brooke's lead.
'It seemed so consuming to be focusing on ways for her to have hair - that wasn't an emphasis we wanted for her,' Denise said. 'I want her to continue to love who she is and carry herself with confidence and security with this disease.'
The Fergusons began focusing on taking action to increase awareness of alopecia areata. Brooke's parents also stepped up to lead a National Alopecia Areata Foundation support group for the Portland area.
'We've made a big effort to educate as many people as possible on Brooke's behalf,' Denise said.
With every group Brooke joins, they provide literature to parents and coaches.
Keeping up with their energetic child's interests has allowed them to educate thousands of people.
'I like to play soccer and paint on my art easel,' Brooke said. 'I like to play basketball, ride horses, play with my friends and video games.
'I like to listen to music like Hannah Montana, Barlowgirl and Aly and AJ. I also like to learn how to read music and play the piano on my own. Sometimes I sneak a few songs on my brother Alex's guitar and play Zach's drums.'
'Brooke is not very idle,' her mom said.
Brooke also takes an active role in explaining her condition to her peers.
'I'm not really different from other kids,' Brooke said. 'It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, what matters is what's in the inside.'
While Brooke is comfortable in her own skin and prefers to go natural and not hide her shaved head, she recognizes that other children with alopecia areata or undergoing cancer treatment may be uncomfortable with their hair loss and choose to wear wigs.
She first learned about Locks of Love while attending Pilgrim Lutheran School in Beaverton for two years. Pilgrim, for the past three years, has hosted a hair donation event at the school.
'I think it's cool that we can help other kids have wigs made out of real hair,' Brooke said. 'I don't really like synthetic wigs because I can't play with them and they get knotty.
'A real-hair wig is better because you can curl it and wash it and style it.'
The fourth-grader and her parents approached Errol Hassell's Parent Teacher Organization with the idea of holding its own Locks of Love event.
In response to the Fergusons' request, the school's family carnival will include a special hair collection event to support Locks of Love from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the school, 18100 S.W. Bany Road.
Community members are invited to participate by donating ponytails or braids for wig production.