‘It’s transforming lives’: Belfast plastic surgeon treats scar victims with hair transplants

Article by: Andrew Madden. Tuesday 7 March 2023.
Belfast Telegraph

Image of Dr Brendan Fogarty at paradigm clinic for hair transplants

The Belfast Telegraph

At a small clinic in south Belfast a surgeon and his team are providing a niche procedure that is changing lives.
Whether through accident, as a result of surgery or otherwise, people can be left physically scarred. Skin grafts can be carried out to help treat the affected area, but what happens when the scar tissue is on the scalp, face or eyebrow area?

Dr Brendan Fogarty specialises in providing hair transplants to scar victims. Naturally, individuals can feel extremely self-conscious about their scars and dream of having their natural hair grow back as it once did.

At Paradigm Clinic in Belfast, Dr Fogarty and his team are doing just that. From those with burns to their scalp, or left scarred from cleft palate surgery, he has treated a wide range of patients in this way.

Dr Fogarty is a consultant plastic surgeon and is also the clinical lead for plastic surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“My main interest is in burns and trauma, and post-traumatic reconstruction. I’ve always been interested in scalp reconstruction and through sheer good luck I became involved in hair transplantation for hair-bearing skin,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“So I’ve been able to combined my reconstruction interest with the more modern techniques of hair transplantation for the purpose of scar reconstruction.

“I’m really glad that we’re able to offer people this kind of surgery that is really transformative for their lives.”

Dr Fogarty has been working in this specific field for the last 13 years, but he says it has only been in recent years he has seen an increasing number of patients, as more people become aware that this surgery is possible.

The procedure of transplanting hair into scar tissue involves taking hair follicles from “donor” sites where hair does not typically fall out naturally, such as the back of the head.

The follicles are then implanted into the scar tissue and the hair grows naturally. This procedure can be done in the space of a day and after six months the hair will have grown. It does not fall out and will last a lifetime.

“The big benefit of hair transplantation for scar reconstruction is that it’s a walk-in, walk-out procedure, and the patient does not need to be put under general anaesthetic,” Dr Fogarty said.

“For the average patient it would only be a three or four hour procedure, but it’s very comfortable and quite relaxing for the patient”.

Before and after pictures of one patient who had facial scarring

Before and after pictures of one patient who had facial scarring

“To give an example of a procedure, if someone has facial or lip scarring, in a man you would want to take hair from their chin, because that’s a better type of hair for the reconstruction. If the scarring is on the scalp, you might want to take hair from another part of the scalp, because that would be a better match.”

Dr Fogarty has treated a wide range of patients. They include some who were born with a cleft lip and palate. Surgery to correct this results in scarring on the upper lip and hair would not naturally grow on this scar tissue, which results in problems if the person in question wants to grow facial hair.

Other patients have suffered burns to their scalp as a result of accidents, or burns to their face.

Before and after pictures of a patient with scarring on her scalp

Before and after pictures of a patient with scarring on her scalp

Aside from the aesthetic benefits of the procedure for patients, Dr Fogarty said it has huge psychological benefits.

“It’s all about psychology in many ways. These are patients who think about their scars morning, noon and night,” he said.

“It affects where they sit, how they dress, whether it’s windy, all those type of things. It’s transformative. All of a sudden [after the procedure] they are back to normality. It’s a weight off their shoulders. That’s what’s really gratifying for me, as well as for them.”

The mother of one young patient said the change in her son after undergoing the procedure was “night and day”.

As a schoolboy, the patient was involved in an accident that resulted in burns to his scalp, leaving him extremely self-conscious and wearing a hat to school each day.

“My son has changed dramatically since the surgery, you wouldn’t believe it,” said the mother.

“The psychological impact of his accident when he was 16 was massive. For three or four years it really took a toll on his mental health. He had to wear a cap at school. A different boy came out of that clinic. He was very worried about the procedure but he’s so happy now, he’s a changed man.

“He’s getting another treatment in May and that will be it. So six months on from that he will have a full head of hair. To say he can’t wait would be an understatement, but the first surgery has already changed his life for the better.”

Watch the interview:
Belfast Telegraph: Belfast plastic surgeon on life-transforming hair transplants for scar victims