Nine-year-old East Grand Forks girl donates her hair for a causeWith her soft blue-grey eyes and all the bouncy energy of an active 9-year-old, Sierra Johnson looks pretty much like other children her age. But she is special.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
With her soft blue-grey eyes and all the bouncy energy of an active 9-year-old, Sierra Johnson looks pretty much like other children her age. But she is special.
Since age 4, this East Grand Forks girl has donated her hair to “Locks of Love” to be used to create hairpieces for financially disadvantaged children who have lost their hair due to illness or medical condition.
With every haircut, she’s donated her hair, growing it out for the purpose of giving it away.
She’s given three ponytails, each about 12 inches long, the minimum requested by Locks of Love. She also donated at age 6 and in February, just before her ninth birthday, she made a 13-inch donation.
“She always tells me she wants to grow it out again,” her mother, Cindy Benson said. “I leave it completely up to her.”
The second-grader at New Heights Elementary School and daughter of Dave Johnson of East Grand Forks “is naturally a giver. She’s just really kind-hearted,” Cindy said. “She wants to show that there’s a way to help and donate.”
Cindy doesn’t know of any other children who have done this, she said.
Illness in the family
Sierra may be more aware of the needs of people who are sick because she’s seen loved ones cope with cancer and other illnesses.
Her grandmother Mae Benson, of East Grand Forks, said Sierra got the idea to donate her hair when she, Mae, was battling cancer. Mae asked Sierra, then 4, to cut her hair, which was falling out due to chemotherapy treatment.
“I asked her to cut it in the back,” Mae recalled. “She had fun doing that!”
Later, Cindy’s sister was planning to take her own kids in for haircuts, and asked Cindy if she wanted Sierra to have one, too.
Even at 4, Sierra had seen on TV other children who had lost their hair because of their medical treatments at St. Jude’s Hospital.
“She was told that someone who was sick would get her hair. Sierra said she would get her hair cut only if she could donate it,” Cindy said. “She was thrilled when I told her, ‘another girl or boy will get your hair.’”
Sierra remembers, “I felt really bad for those kids who didn’t have any hair because they were sick.”
She also remembers how sick her grandmother Mae was at the time.
She first donated her hair “because of my Grandma,” she said. “I thought one day she may not have any hair.”
For years, Sierra has helped her grandmother, giving her shots for diabetes and testing her blood-sugar levels.
Cindy has dealt with several health crises, including breast cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She also has diabetes.
Three years ago, Cindy suffered a stroke that required prolonged rehabilitation. At first, she used a wheelchair, later graduating to a walker, then a cane.
“Sierra had to deal with my stroke when she was 6 years old.”
Mae is recovering from recent surgery for colon cancer.
“I’ve had cancer six times now,” Mae said. “She goes through it with me.”
Her granddaughter’s thick, sandy-colored hair grows fast, said Mae, who spends a lot of time with Sierra on weekends. As it grows out, her hair becomes a bit of a nuisance.
“It’s so hard to take care of and comb out. She hates that,” Mae said. “When someone starts to comb it out, when it’s wet, that’s when she starts saying, ‘it’s time to get it cut.’”
The family participates regularly in Relay for Life and Party in Pink, events which support cancer research, Cindy said. “Sierra is very involved.”
Of her daughter’s hair donations, Cindy said, “I’m really, really proud of her. She cares about other people. She’s very thoughtful and giving.”
Mae agrees. “I think it’s great,” she said. “She’s thinking of other little kids who don’t have hair to grow out.”
Sierra has tried to persuade some of her friends to donate to Locks of Love, she said, and she has every intention of continuing to donate.
“When I’m 10, I hope I can do it again. And when I’m 14, I’ll still donate it. And I’ll tell my children, ‘I don’t care if you don’t want to, you’ll still donate it!’”
The idea of other children, somewhere, sporting her hair on their heads is “kind of weird,” she said.
But above all, “I hope that they’re happy.”
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.