RICHMOND, Va. -- No matter how hard you try, you won’t find another person with more zest for life than 6-year-old Gwen Franssen.
“I just wanted to be me and wanted to be myself,” said Gwen.
Her bubbly personality is infectious, and her electric smile radiates positivity -- which helps the little girl from Farmville that is living with a life-altering condition.
“It was not tough, but it was strange,” said Gwen.
Two years ago Gwen’s mom Catherine recognized troubling changes physically. “I noticed there was a bald spot on the top of her head,” recalled Catherine Franssen.
“First it was my eyebrows, and then it got into my head,” said Gwen.
A doctor diagnosed Gwen with alopecia.
“It is hard to deal with, because you’re different from others and sometimes you feel embarrassed,” said Gwen.
“It was really difficult getting information that your kid isn’t 100% healthy,” said Gwen’s father, Adam.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition that attacks healthy hair follicles, which leads to baldness. There is no known cure.
“The adjustment has been great. She has handled it completely smoothly,”Catherine said. “She knows she looks different from others, and yet she embraces is and it is not a big deal.”
Despite the occasional stare from strangers, Gwen’s friends and classmates are supportive.
Elle Franssen said the diagnosis hasn’t changed her little sister one bit.
“She is going to excel very well,” said Elle. “She can lose all of her hair and still be her normal self. That is very impressive.”
“She is energetic, full of life. She is happy and fun,” Adam said. “Everyone knows Gwen. That is the way she is.”
Adam said his daughter handles her condition with such ease he envisions her being an ambassador for alopecia.
“Gwen is going to run with it. She is going to be fantastic. She is going to grow up and achieve whatever she wants to achieve,” said Adam.
Being a spokesperson for Alopecia is a role she readily accepts.
“She is bold with her baldness. She is not interested in covering it up,” said Catherine. “Gwen is such an inspiration to me.”
The little girl is a big Star Wars fan with a soft spot for Darth Vader. Gwen is using her force for good by educating anyone and everyone about her disease.
“I don’t want to wear a wig,” Gwen said. “I don’t want to cover it up. I want to show people I am bald and brave.”
She is a little girl rolling and laughing through life -- no matter what it throws at her.
“She’ll say maybe someone else will be brave because I’m being brave,” said Catherine “I wish I could be as courageous.”
Gwen may have lost her hair, but certainly didn’t lose her spark.
“I can do whatever I did when I had hair,” said Gwen. “It didn’t stop me from doing anything I wanted to.”
After wrapping up first grade, Gwen is hoping to attend a camp for children living with Alopecia. Gwen said one goal this summer is to learn to swim.