- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) - The TLC Wig Closet at McAlester Regional Health Center has helped hundreds of individuals through supplying wigs, caps, scarves and other personal items to those who have lost their hair while battling cancer and other illnesses.

It’s all been done free of charge, without any cost to the recipients.

Now, thanks to the employees at Spirit AeroSystems in McAlester, Ashely Lerblance and volunteers at The TLC Wig Closet will be able to help many more.

Representatives from Spirit AeroSystems in McAlester stopped by the McAlester Regional Health Center to make a $3,500 donation to The Wig Closet, with the money donated by Spirit AeroSystems through its Good Neighbor Fund.

Lerblance, a clinical pharmacist at the hospital, started The Wig Closet in 2010, with assistance from her daughter, Lexie Lerblance, who is now a student at the University of Oklahoma.

Thanking the Spirit AeroSystems employees for their donation, Ashley Lerblance spoke of how items supplied through The TLC Wig Closet have helped others - and how the need continues.

“This is wonderful,” Lerblance said as she accepted the donation in the hospital lobby. The money will make it possible to replace all of our wigs that were given away last year, she said.

Wigs, caps, scarves and other items are available free of charge to those who participate in the program.

“Last year we did 35 wigs,” Lerblance said, referring to the amount of wigs The TLC Wig Closet donated to individuals in 2016.

She knows firsthand the feelings of losing one’s hair because of illness.

“I had breast cancer,” Lerblance told the McAlester News-Capital (https://bit.ly/2r8vqsO ). “I had chemotherapy and I lost my hair.” Lerblance said she did not get much help when she went somewhere to try and find a wig.

“I literally left there crying,” she said. “They didn’t want to help me. I was going through the most trying thing I’ve ever went through in my lifetime.”

Through The TLC Wig Closet, Lerblance and volunteers who work with her hope no one else from the McAlester area has to go through something similar.

“We meet with them on a one-on-one basis,” Lerblance said. “We just want to kind of ease the burden on searching for things.”

Wigs, caps and scarves aren’t all that’s offered through the service.

“We also do bras and prosthesis,” Lerblance said.

While many of the wigs are for females, some items are available for men, too. Caps, and sometimes toupees, are available for men who have lost their hair because of cancer treatments or related reasons.

Lerblance knows there’s a demand for the services, based on the number of wigs given through the program.

“Last year we gave out 35, and the year before that, 25,” Lerblance noted. “This year we’ve seen 16 wigs go out already.”

Fifty-one total gift items have gone out so far in 2017.

“Everybody who gets a wig gets a wig cap,” Lerblance said, referring to the cap worn between the wig and the scalp to make wearing the wig more comfortable. Recipients also get a stand on which to place a wig when it’s not being worn.

It’s all designed to help ease the burden on those who are seeking help.

“They’re already dealing with hospital stress,” said MRHC Foundation Director Ryan Gothard. Foundation members Richard Lerblance, who is the former District 7 state Senator, and Kevin Priddle, the former McAlester mayor, also attended the check presentation.

Danny Barlow, Lynn Mattox, Karla Stephens and fund administrator Dena Bacon of Spirit AeroSystems represented the company’s employees who contributed to the Good Neighbor Fund.

Barlow said Spirit AeroSystems employees give donations from their paychecks on a regular basis for the Good Neighbor Fund.

“You can donate from $5 to whatever,” Barlow said. A record is kept of the amounts donated and grant applications are considered as they are made. Bacon said recipients must have a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status.

More assistance for The TLC Wig Closet comes from Premier Cosmetology in McAlester, which helps by cleaning and styling any wigs that are returned, according to Lerblance and volunteer Caroline Echelle.

Echelle said she’s glad The Wig Closet is on hospital premises.

“It’s more accessible to the public,” said Echelle, formerly of the American Cancer Society in McAlester.

Anyone needing to participate in The TLC Wig Closet program can stop by the McAlester Regional Health Center. The TLC Wig Closet is open on the third floor of the hospital from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Mondays. No appointment is necessary on Mondays, but special arrangements can be made for those who may need to come in at other times, volunteers said.

Hospital volunteers Sernanda Anderson and Norma Williams ordinarily staff The Wig Closet. They spoke of how they’ve been touched by the individuals who’ve been assisted through the service. The two, who are members of the MRHC Volunteers Auxiliary, said they are always ready to help.

“They’re doing such a good job,” Anderson said of Lerblance, Echelle and others involved in the project.

“It’s free,” Williams noted. No insurance or anything else is required.

Some may assume the TLC in The TLC Wig Closet is an acronym for Tender Loving Care, but that’s not the case. It’s the initials of Lerblance’s mother, the late Teresa Lane Compton. Lerblance said her mother was so humble, she would never have asked for the Wig Closet to be named in her honor, but volunteers insisted on doing it anyway.

“Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death,” Lerblance said on the day of the check presentation.

Barlow, of Spirit AeroSystems, added a thought about the work done through The TLC Wig Closet, even if it keeps a relatively low profile on the hospital’s third floor.

“It’s a benefit to the community you don’t see,” he said.

Except for the wigs which adorn the heads of those who are beaming after availing themselves of the Wig Closet’s offerings.

___

Information from: McAlester News-Capital, https://www.mcalesternews.com

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