Dad Surprises Daughter With Shaved Head When She Wakes From Brain Surgery

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Mental Health Struggle

“My name’s Erin. I’m 21-years-old. I live in upstate New York with my Dad, mom and two sisters. I’ve struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and autism spectrum disorder since I was 4-years-old.

Later on, as I got older, depression played a huge part in my life, too. I’ve struggled with school and being bullied my whole life. My parents and sisters have always been there to push me and support me no matter what.

My parents were told I would never graduate from high school. But in 2015, I did.

Without all the people I had helping me in high school, it was really hard to continue to be a student athlete in college. My mental health started to decline. My OCD and anxiety were always bad, but now they were at an all-time high. I had to drop out of school in October of 2018 on medical leave and was hospitalized.

Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery

Then something amazing happened. My psychiatrist, (Dr. Klopott, who has been working with me since I was 7) mentioned something that could have the potential to completely change my life. He had done research and come across Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery for OCD and anxiety (which is experimental in the US).

DBS is a common surgery for people with Parkinson’s, central tremors and seizure disorders. For OCD and anxiety, the surgery and the placement of the leads is in a different part of the brain but where they place the battery in the chest is the same. I am the first one in my area to have this type of surgery done.

girl sits in hospital bed with stuffed bear
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell
woman sits in hospital bed with shaved head
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell

Losing My Hair

It seems weird, but I wasn’t even the most nervous about the actual surgery because it has so much potential to change my life. The thing I was most worried about was getting my hair shaved off for surgery.

What 21-year-old girl wants to be bald? I’m super self-conscious as it is, and I hide behind my hair when I’m anxious, so this was going to be a huge change, and super upsetting for me. 2 weeks before surgery however, I did decide to donate 8 inches of my hair to Pantene, so a cancer patient could have a wig. That made me feel a little better, but I still felt so alone.

girl holds hair to donate
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell

Dad’s Heartwarming Gesture

When I woke up from surgery, the first person I saw was my Mom. She gave me a kiss on my forehead, smiled, and pointed to my dad. When I looked at my dad, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more genuine smile on my face in my entire life.

I have never felt more love than I have in that moment. While I was in surgery, my dad had gone to get his head shaved so ‘when I woke up I wouldn’t be alone, and we’d be in this together.’

21-year-old girl and dad smile with shaved heads
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell

The love he showed for me that day was truly something I’ll never forget. He didn’t have a father growing up, so it amazes me with how wonderful of a human and how kind of a soul he has. He truly has the kindest heart. Must have been my wonderful grandmother’s influence on him!

Improving OCD Symptoms

Just the other day, about 4 weeks after surgery, I got my battery and programming turned on. The battery in my chest is connected to the leads which wind up through my neck and go deep into my brain. The battery then transmits signals to my brain.

Right now, it’s on a very low setting because we have to be cautious of side effects, but I have already had some tiny victories when it comes to my OCD. I cannot wait for the programming to be turned up higher and to hopefully see even more improvements.

top of head after brain surgery
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell

The moral of the story? Just remember to always hang onto hope and always keep fighting.

No matter your story, no matter your mental illness. If you have a family as supportive as mine, you can and will get through whatever you are going through.

There were times when I wanted to give up and call it quits but my family never gave up hope. This helped me never give up on myself.”

girl smiles with sisters after surgery
Courtesy of Erin O’Donnell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erin O’Donnell, 21, of New York. Subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter.

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‘With no emotion he told us, ‘Ryder will forever be a vegetable and drool all over himself.’ Then he got up and left the room. All I saw was tunnel vision. We knew it wasn’t right.’

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