DAWSON, Minn. — Seventh grade can be a challenging time as kids are adjusting to a new school.
For 13-year-old Thatcher Johnson — enrolled in the Dawson-Boyd district — it became a bit more challenging when he developed alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair to fall out. In some cases, it doesn’t grow back.
“I like football, basketball, baseball. I play video games,” Johnson said.
They are the typical hobbies of seventh-grade boys, a time when everyone is just trying to fit in.
“I didn’t really want to stick out. I wanted other people to be there with me so it would be easier,” Johnson said.
When Johnson began losing his hair, it was tough, and difficult to explain to other kids what alopecia is.
“With alopecia comes depression and anxiety and fear and embarrassment. And all those things that are icky feelings,” mother Mandi Johnson said.
Because Thatcher Johnson couldn’t change what was happening, his friends and family decided to change for him.
“Thatcher was like, ‘I think I just want to do it.’ So I was thinking I’m just going to do it too then. I don’t want you to be alone,” father Ben Johnson said.
So they threw a head-shaving party, thinking a couple people would join in. But it turned into something much bigger. Dads and sons alike showed up and got their heads shaved for Thatcher Johnson, many for the first time.
“I was very surprised. I thought it was going to be my dad for sure but I didn’t know anyone else was going to do it,” Thatcher Johnson said.
“It was fun. It was kind of crazy, too. We couldn’t believe that we actually shaved our heads,” friend and cousin Jacob Johnson said.
“I was emotional. I got teary-eyed pretty much every time someone else would sit down,” Mandi Johnson said.
Now, when Thatcher Johnson and his friends are at school or playing sports, it’s hard to tell them apart. Which is exactly how they want it.
“Since his buddies have done this for him he’s had nothing but good feelings,” Mandi Johnson said. “I think these boys don’t quite understand how impactful it is. Maybe when they are adults or parents of their own, they might understand, but it’s really powerful. And we are very thankful.”
Doctors are still hopeful Thatcher Johnson will grow his hair back. Even if it takes time, his friends said they have no problem shaving their heads again.