January 22, 2019

‘If they need me, I’m here’

Photo by Jason Starr
Agnes Perellie poses in the HairBuilders of Williston wig room.

Wig room at HairBuilders serves local chemo patients

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

After nearly 40 years in business and a solid base of hair restoration clients, Agnes Perellie wasn’t searching for a new type of service to offer.

But Perellie, who owns HairBuilders of Williston, got a call one day in 2016 from a nurse at the UVM Medical Center’s oncology unit. The staff there figured HairBuilders would be open to taking on wig fittings for cancer patients who were losing their hair as a result of chemotherapy treatments.

It would be a new service and a new type of client for the Blair Park Road business, but Perellie dove in, creating a separate fitting room with about 60 wig options of both synthetic and human hair to help serve the needs of local chemo patients.

“It’s a very rewarding business,” she said. “I’m never going to make a living from the wig room, and I’m OK with that. It’s more of a service for people to know we are here than it is to make money.”

Amy Bertrand is a patient navigator with the American Cancer Society who is stationed at the hospital’s oncology unit. She helps newly diagnosed patients understand the side effects of chemotherapy and local options for wigs.

Wigs can cost up to $1,000, she said, and are not covered under Medicaid or Medicare. The American Cancer Society maintains a wig bank for patients with a financial need to receive previously owned wigs for free. Fittings are provided in the hospital, and the wigs are delivered to patients’ homes. A handful of local hair salons also work with the program to fit and style wigs.

For patients with insurance coverage for wigs or who can pay out of pocket, Bertrand refers them to either HairBuilders or The Mane House in South Burlington.

“Patients are pleasantly surprised to hear what is available,” Bertrand said. “Locally, we really do have some great options.”

Perellie said she doesn’t proactively seek out cancer patients, although she does place brochures at the hospital. Many of her wig clients come from past client referrals.

“It’s a very small part of our business,” she said. “If they need me, I’m here.”

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