A young woman is overcoming suffering from debilitating seizures and losing all her hair – by becoming a model.
Last year Caitlin Leigh’s hair started falling out in large chunks and she began having seizures but had no idea what was causing either – at her worst she was having eight seizures an hour.
One day the 21-year-old was plaiting her hair on the way to work when it just started coming out in her hands.
After only seven days, she had lost 60 per cent of her brown locks – she was later was diagnosed with alopecia areata.
Caitlin said: “I was getting ready for work and I noticed small chunks of my hair where falling out.
“I rang my parents in complete shock and confusion and decided that the next day I would travel home to be with family and to be checked by my local family GP.
“I had many blood tests over the next few days but nothing seemed to pin point why I was losing hair.
“As the days went on the patches of hair loss grew, my hair would tangle and matt as the lose hair would fall, it was truly heart breaking.
“One day I while plaiting my hair I noticed a small chunk of hair fall into my hand – I wasn’t sure what this meant but as the night went on the small little patch where I was losing hair started to get bigger and by the end of that night I had a 10p size patch of hair loss.
“I’ve always had very thick hair and losing some while brushing and washing was normal but this was different.
“Four days after I initially noticed I was losing my hair I chose to have my hair cut into a bob hairstyle, mostly to reduce the tangling but also to feel more in control of what was going on.
“On April 7 I was diagnosed with alopecia areata – at this time I still did not understand what this meant as to me alopecia was total hair loss and I’d never get it back.
“I soon learnt that in fact my alopecia diagnosis meant that my hair will fall out in chucks but I still get hair growth which I’m very thankful for.
“A week after my diagnosis I decided to brave the buzz. For me, I didn’t know when or if my hair loss would slow down or stop so I decided to take control. Over the last year I’ve learnt to embrace my hair loss and turn it into a me. ”
As well as losing a lot of her head hair, she lost body hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and nose hairs.
Just one week after her hair started falling out, Caitlin, from Tonbridge, Kent, began having seizures.
She said: “A week after my hair loss started, I had just got back from a family event and was laid on my bed with my mum when my first seizure happened.
“I don’t remember much from the first few months of my seizures but I have been told by family and friends that it was draining and painful to watch me go through.
“Mum said my whole body was shaking – she called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital where I was having up to eight seizures an hour.”
This went on for 11 days until Caitlin was diagnosed with non-epileptic seizures – both the alopecia and seizures were caused by her brain being overloaded with stress due to chronic stomach pain she had been experiencing for months.
She later found the pain was caused by adenomyosis, where the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall.
But despite the frightening seizures, which affect her memory, and other conditions Caitlin was determined not to let them over her life – she shaved her head and became a model.
She said: “Over the last year I have slowly started to regain strength and take back more control – my seizures are now around two and a half hours apart which means I can actually do things between each one and this is helping me regain my independence.
“I couldn’t control the seizures but I could have some control over my appearance and the stress the hair loss was causing me.
“I braved the buzz and shaving my head made me feel so much more confident.”
At the end of last year she featured in Fabulous magazine and shortly after, was scouted by Zebedee – an agency for diverse models.
She said: “I was not too sure how to answer at first but then I thought I want to show people my seizures and hair loss do not stop me from enjoying my day to day life.”
Two weeks on the books and she landed a job with Primark and has since worked with another popular brand, Tu.
She said: “It is nerve racking but I really enjoy it.
“I’m so lucky to receive messages of thanks from people who I’ve helped or shown that hair loss and seizures do not define who you are.
“My aim is to now show the modeling industry that yes diversity is going the right way but we still have a way to go. I hope to show people that fashion is for everyone no matter what.”
Caitlin has to use a wheelchair a lot of the time because of the seizures, but is not afraid to embrace this within her shoots.
She just hit 2,000 followers on Instagram, which is a significant landmark in her aim to raise awareness of alopecia and she continues to work with Zebedee, modelling part-time.
She said: “I do it as much as I can when I’m feeling up to it but am really focussing on my Instagram at the moment.
“I take each day as it comes as I am always facing different obstacles on this journey.
“I am now having seizures about every two and a half hours and am starting CBT next month which should hopefully calm them down by finding the underlying problems.”