A strange disease that can turn a young life inside out

Johnnie Umoh wanted to fix what had happened to his teenage daughter, but he felt helpless because he didn’t understand her disease. He also wanted to protect her from what might lie ahead, because so much had happened already. She had rapidly lost all her hair, with no certainty it would ever grow back permanently. Alexis, 14, a freshman at Westside High School in Augusta, has alopecia areata. Her hair began falling out at age 9. Alopecia areata is a highly unpredictable condition that attacks millions of Americans. The autoimmune disease is defined as the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. It causes hair follicles to produce very small or no visible hair above the skin’s surface. Hair can grow back in — or fall out again — at any time. The disease can progress to total loss of hair on the scalp, and sometimes on the face and body as well. There is no cure. Alopecia areata is not related to male or female pattern baldness, the common kind of hair loss seen in adults. Instead, it’s a real disease, and it affects people regardless of racial background, sex or age. It can be particularly tough when it hits the young.   Parents rally round daughter   Alexis is a cheerleader for her school, and she dreams of becoming a doctor someday. Her mother, Patricia, remembers her daughter with curly hair and ponytails. When Alexis developed bare spots on her scalp, and eventually lost…