Ria Molly Shelly, 11, had been growing her hair for two years after reading about The Rapunzel Foundation, a charity that collects real hair to make wigs for alopecia sufferers, when she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia in May.
Despite her diagnosis, she went ahead with her plans and had her haircut at her home in Coolboy, Co Wicklow, with Gorey hairdresser Christine Doyle visiting for the occasion and cutting Ria’s waist-length locks into a stylish bob.
“I saw little children that needed it and I saw that they needed it more than I did so I wanted to give it to them,” Ria said before her haircut.
The 5th class student from St Mary’s National School in Coolafancy, Co Wicklow said that she likes to imagine “someone else getting it after it’s been turned into a wig,” adding that she doesn’t mind if she loses the rest of her hair herself and will wear a bandana until it grows back.
Ria Molly is the first child in the Republic of Ireland to receive a new combined chemotherapy to treat her acute promyelocytic leukemia (APML) and mum Lynsey Shelly said doctors are unsure whether or not her treatment will make her lose her hair, so she opted to donate her ponytail while it is still usable.
“We saw a story of a little girl online who had alopecia and she read about it, and about other kids who had cancer, and she said, ‘I’m going to do that with my hair’,” Mrs Shelly said. But in May, Ria developed unexplained bruises and was quickly diagnosed with APML. Fortunately Ria is responding well to treatment and has a good prognosis, Mrs Shelly said.
“To look at her you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong because she’s so positive,” Mrs Shelly said.
“She’s always got a smile on her face and asks how everyone else is and doesn’t worry about herself. She’s really strong. She’s only 11 but she’s taken everything in her stride. I’m so proud of her.”
Anna Furlong, the founder of the Rapunzel Foundation, the charity to which Ria donated her hair, praised the 11-year- old for her kindness. “In the midst of her own trauma, to be able to think of giving to others is a very generous act,” Ms Furlong said. “Even before her diagnosis, the effort and commitment to grow her hair for so long is amazing.”
A network of 350 registered salons throughout the country will provide a free cut to donors, and Ms Furlong says they receive an average of 100 ponytails a week.
The charity only takes hair that is over 14 inches (35.5cm) long.
The Rapunzel Foundation then sells the hair to Freedom Wigs, a company in New Zealand, where they are made into specialised prosthetic hair pieces, and uses the proceeds to fund the purchase of completed wigs for those who can’t afford them.
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