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Kaleah Mishon Letcher's Story: Get the FACTS about Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a skin condition of white patches resulting from loss of pigment. Any part of the body may be affected. Melanin, the pigment that determines color of skin, hair, and eyes, is produced in cells called melanocytes. If these cells die or cannot form melanin, the skin becomes lighter or completely white. Affected skin is particularly sensitive to sunlight. Vitiligo is not a contagious condition.

 

Kaleah Mishon Letcher (Leah) will turn 10 years old on September 30, 2002. She has had vitiligo since she was three years old. This disease has had a powerful effect on her life and our family. Leah is a very active child. She plays all kinds of sports so summer is a busy time of the year with softball and soccer. Leah has lost 75% of the pigment on her body so she has no protection from the sun.  Sunscreens have an ingredient that helps to spread her vitiligo, so we have been warned not to use them. At times the burns she gets from the sun cause her skin to blister to the point where she has to go to a dermatologist to have them pricked to relieve the pain and cut down on infection.

My husband and I have taught Leah to be proud of who she is in spite of the way she looks. She tries hard to ignore the points and stares of other people that don't know what she is going through. However, at her age it becomes an everyday battle because kids, as well as adults, can be cruel. There is a process similar to the one that Michael Jackson chose to take the color out of his skin. When I presented Leah with this option, she said "No...I don't want to look white, I want to be the same color as the rest of my family". As a parent, that broke my heart. To think that she would feel different from us is sad. I don't want Leah to feel that she has to give up her heritage. We are a proud African American family and she knows that. It seems that in her mind to look white, even if it is because of a skin disease is not acceptable. Leah has to contend with not only growing up as a black child in a mostly white community in Lincoln Nebraska, but on top of that, she has spots that really make her stand out.

The American Vitiligo Research Foundation has been a saving grace for our family. We found them on the internet at a time when Leah really needed to meet other children like herself. The organization is totally about helping children that are affected with this condition. Raising awareness and educating the public is the first step.

For more information about Vitiligo, go to the American Vitiligo Research Foundation's website at www.avrf.org or call the organization at 727-461-3899

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