Sutherland Shire’s Carlo Napolitano was diagnosed with alopecia areata at age 4.
Within weeks he was totally bald.
Mr Napolitano – who coached the Italian national rugby league team at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup – is sharing his story as part of Alopecia Areata Awareness Week which ends on November 19.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease which results in hair loss in some or all areas of the body.
“I was really young when I got alopecia. It all happened very quickly,” Mr Napolitano said.
“Within weeks I was totally bald. Even at such a young age, I was very aware of people staring at me.
“I would often hear people asking my parents how long I’d had cancer for.”
He said he became very self conscious as a child and would often wear a hat in public.
“It became my security blanket. Unfortunately, I also got bullied regularly when I was younger, older kids would take my hat off and throw it away.
“Others would frequently chant ‘baldy, you are not going to live long’.”
It wasn’t until he turned 21 that he was comfortable to go out in public without a hat.
“The support and understanding of my friends and family gave me the confidence and encouragement to achieve my ambitions and deal with the ups and downs of the condition.
“Finally, at the age of 21, I drummed up the courage to take off my hat and decided to face alopecia head on. I never wore it again, it was the most liberating day of my life.”
The former professional rugby league player and coach is now a committee member of the Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF).
“I am involved with the foundation to share my story. I want individuals with alopecia to know they are not alone and understand the importance of having a focus and a strong network of support – that is what got me through the hard times,” he said.
“I am also passionate about raising awareness of the condition with the general public. I want people to understand that although people with alopecia look different, we are completely healthy.”
Mr Napolitano has the most severe form of alopecia called alopecia universalis, which results in total loss of all body hair.
There is no known cure for alopecia areata.
AAAF funds research into the autoimmune disease in order to find a cure, or acceptable treatment, and informs the public about the condition.
Alopecia can occur at any age but in most cases it first presents itself during childhood.
To donate money or hair to the Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation click here.