Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beauty radiates despite hair loss

Mariah Michelle Stokes suffers from alopecia areata, a lack of hair. But her parents,
Mitchell and Sandra Stokes, make her feel like she's the most important person in
the world. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
When Mariah Michelle Stokes was born, her mother envisioned grooming her hair with dainty ribbons and colorful barrettes. But after her baby girl’s first birthday, her head-full of hair started falling out.
Something was happening to Mariah, which sent her parents, Mitchell and Sandra Stokes, searching for answers. “We took her to the emergency room,” said Sandra Stokes. “We also went to see several doctors…and Mariah had lots of blood work.”
They soon found out why Mariah had loss her hair. “At that time, they (doctors) determined it was alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that attacks the hair (follicles),” said Sandra Stokes, who was devastated after receiving the glum diagnosis.
Chances are most people wouldn’t know what alopecia areata is unless a loved one, or someone they know, is struggling with the disease. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, this “polygenic disease” affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States with a lifetime risk of 2.1 percent.
Mariah Michelle Stokes and her parents
Mitchell and Sandra Stokes.
In some cases, there may be a total loss of hair on the scalp, face and body, and then hair may return to those areas. In either case, there is no cure for alopecia areata.
“I never had an issue with it,” said Mariah, who is quick to flash a toothy smile when complimented, and even when she’s not. “I never felt self-conscious. I feel self-conscious about other things – but not about [not] having hair.”
Mariah never really noticed that she was different until she started school and began socializing with her playmates. “I never felt different,” she said. “When I’m around other kids, I probably noticed I’m the only person who looks like this.”
“When all of this first happened, I wondered what I could do to help her,” said Mitchell Stokes, recalling a conversation with Mariah who asked him point-blank why she had to be the one stricken with alopecia areata.
“I tried to have a sound answer for her as much as I could,” he said. “I just told her that God knew she could handle this…and that it will help somebody else.”
The couple, also the parents of 31-year-old Mitchell Jarod Stokes, instilled in their daughter that she is beautiful, imbued with self-confidence, and possesses a positive attitude.
“My parents didn’t make me feel like I was different,” said Mariah. “They always told me that I was beautiful. I never had a problem without hair. I actually like it now.”
But that wasn’t always the case. During her formative years, mean-spirited kids teased Mariah and gawkers, including curious adults, assumed she has cancer.
“I’ve dealt with people staring, people coming up to me asking me if I have cancer. And I’ve been called a milk dud,” said Mariah, now 18 and a freshman attending Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis, Ark.
“Beauty comes from the inside out,” said Sandra Stokes, recalling an incident when she was ready to “jack up” a group of cruel children who encircled Mariah in a mall. “I’m like, ‘Leave my baby alone. Give us some privacy.’”
Mariah is used to roving eyes and revolving heads. “She doesn’t let it get her down,” her mother said. “Sometimes I wonder if she really knows she really doesn’t have hair.”
Mariah said she just wants to be happy and encourage others. She also likes dancing and glorifying God, which she gets to do on Sunday mornings at Golden Gate Cathedral, her family’s home church. She’s a praise dancer and once sang in the choir.  
She loves children too.
“I want to be an OBGYN,” she said. “I’ve always liked kids, but I didn’t want to be a pediatrician because I don’t want to see sick kids. I feel like bringing them into the world. I want to help people. I want to deliver babies.”
“We’re Christians,” said Mitchell Stokes. “So we tie the word into everything that we do. We let her know that all things work together for the good for those who love the Lord.”   

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