Niki Costello had long hair her entire life.
The mother of two from Manhattan’s hair was down to her waist, and sometimes a little longer.
In April, Costello underwent stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis, part of which required chemotherapy.
“They say not everyone loses their hair while in chemotherapy, but at my first appointment I was told 100 percent hair loss,” Costello said. “It became a real fear. What would the people in my life think? It may seem trivial, but it was reality setting in of how serious this treatment would be.”
She was first diagnosed with the condition in 2008. Four years later, standard treatments weren’t helping Costello. She decided to take part in a new stem cell program through Northwestern Memorial Hospital – part of which required intensive chemotherapy for nearly a full week.
“The treatment wiped me out to newborn status,” she said. “Every immunity, every childhood vaccination, every shot, all gone.”
When her hair started growing back in July, it looked more like peach fuzz, Costello said. About two months later Costello’s hair was still a long way from before the treatment. Wigs were too hot, and all she could do was spike it “like G.I. Jane,” she said.
Costello then received a call from someone she barely knew offering to change that situation.
Emotional to the End
Sheli Dodaro-Hernandez, a stylist at Jeffrey LaMorte Salon and Day Spa in Orland Park, only knew about Niki Costello from what was told by her cousin, Costello’s sister in law.
“When my cousin got married, Niki was in the hospital getting stem cell treatments,” Dodaro-Hernandez said. “After, she said she just wanted to feel like herself again.”
Costello was touched plenty that Dodaro-Hernandez would just ask her cousin about her condition, let alone help her.
But Dodaro-Hernandez took it a step further.
She asked her boss at the salon if she could add about 16 inches of extensions to Costello, so her hair could be back to what it was before the treatment. The salon agreed to cover costs, not just for the lengthy process that includes, selecting hair, matching color and applying the extensions – but also they would donate the hair itself. The 400 strands of extensions adding 16 inches all around Costello’s head cost around $1,500.
Costello, a single mother supporting her family by herself, isn’t accustomed to being the recipient.
“I’ve got pretty thick skin, but when we first met, I cried. We both were crying,” Costello said. “I’m usually putting people before me. I figure if we don’t have it we’ll manage. She’s an amazing and giving human being, and so is her boss.”
Dodaro-Hernandez and Costello met twice, the first time to match the color and the second to apply.
“It was all very emotional, all the way to the end,” Dodaro-Hernandez said.
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Angels Along the Way
Costello’s children and boyfriend were pleased and surprised by the transformation.
“Everyone was amazed with Sheli’s talent,” Costello said. “They were amazed with how natural it looks, how I look the same as I used to.”
Costello described her present condition of MS as not cured but halted. She makes a point to counsel fellow women, including some who underwent the same treatment, on how to return to their lives with a good outlook.
“I tell them we have to look at the glass as half full,” Costello said. “This is a temporary bad, and the good could be permanent. We need to find the angels along the way, like Sheli and Jeffrey LaMorte, and appreciate them.”
LaMorte’s salon frequently does haircuts and other grooming work for charities throughout the year, Dodaro-Hernandez said. To continue helping with costs for work such as the extensions, Dodaro-Hernandez said she hopes to start a fund one day.
In the meantime, she also walked away from the experience with perspective.
“I am very blessed, and Niki is a strong, strong woman,” Dodaro-Hernandez said. “If she can get through all of this, and work as a single mom, I can certainly get through my daily life.”
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