One day, Paula Quinn noticed a lot of her 2-year-old daughter’s chocolate brown curls on her pillow. She asked Rosie if she was pulling her hair out, but she said she wasn’t.
“She used to suck her thumb and twirl her hair,” Quinn recalls.
Quinn thought maybe Rosie was stressed since Quinn was about to go back to work after a six month maternity leave for Rosie’s baby sister, Caroline.
“But every day, there was just more and more hair,” the 42-year-old Chicago mom says.
Two weeks later, Rosie had lost 90 percent of the hair on her body — including her eye lashes, her eye brows, even the hair on her arms and legs. Rosie’s pediatrician diagnosed her with alopecia.
A specialist told Rosie’s parents that there are a variety of treatments for alopecia, but Quinn and her husband Larry, who works in medical sales, declined. “Since she was so little, we didn’t want to pump all of her body with drugs,” Quinn says.
Plus, Rosie didn’t mind being hairless. “It really didn’t seem to bother her. No secret, no shame, just embrace the baldness and get her some cute hats,” Quinn decided.
But when she turned 3, chatty, outgoing Rosie started acting self-conscious. At places like the grocery store, kids would point and ask what was wrong with her. “She would just start getting really quiet and she’d clutch my leg,” Quinn says. “I would step in and say, ‘This is Rosie. She has alopecia -- that makes her hair fall out. What makes you different?’”
Rosie didn’t like wigs, so her mom came up with the idea of printing one of Rosie’s drawings onto a head scarf. And that changed everything.
“She was immediately in love with it. She sat in front of the mirror a good five minutes smiling and putting it on different ways.
Now, instead of her baldness, strangers commented on how pretty her scarf was. And that gave Rosie an idea. She told her mom: “I want to give this to all the bald kids.” And for six months, Rosie was persistent with the idea.
After 10 years of working in human resources at Google, Quinn quit her job in July 2015. A year later, she launched the non-profit Coming up Rosies, which sends “Smile Kits” for free to kids with alopecia or medical issues.
“At first we were focusing on making all the bald kids smile,” Quinn says. “But now it’s anyone going through a medical journey – like a heart transplant, or cancer.”
A child paints the canvas with brushes and paints included in the kit – then an adult takes a picture with their smart phone, and emails a high-resolution image to the non-profit. The original artwork is then printed on a head scarf, headband, neck scarf or super hero cape and mailed to the child.
Coming up Rosie’s works with 12 hospitals in Illinois and Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital. Through their partnership with jewelry designer Kendra Scott’s philanthropy, they are working to expand to other children’s hospitals around the country. They started the partnership in May, when Rosie and Scott personally delivered Smile Kits to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin.
“I have never met anyone quite like Rosie,” Scott told Today.com. “From the moment I met her, I could feel this force of confidence and self-assurance that is pretty rare to see in someone so young.”
Four-year-old Mary Kate Zweidinger, lost her hair shortly after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer in August, and began radiation and chemotherapy. “She loves art — she decorated her whole entire hospital room with pictures of princesses, and unicorns and rainbows,” says her mother, 39-year-old Sarah McNamara.
A friend in their Chicago neighborhood gave Mary Kate a Smile Kit to make a headscarf. “I don’t think she’s taken it off,” her mother says. “She wears it all the time — even to bed. It empowered her.”
Now a rising third grader, 8-year-old Rosie loves softball, swim team, and reading Harry Potter Books. One day, she wants to be a Supreme Court Justice (her idol is Ruth Bader Ginsberg). Rosie says she no longer needs her scarf to feel confident, and she only wears them on cold Chicago nights.
“She still rocks the bald,” Quinn says. “She tells people, ‘I don’t want hair. I don’t want a cure for alopecia. I like being bald. I like being me.’”