Q&A: Dr. Leonard Talks about Wes Welker's Hair Transplant

We called Dr. Leonard to find out what it was like to work with Welker, and why his candidness may inspire others to treat their own failing follicles.

New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is the new face of male pattern baldness. After undergoing a hair restoration process with Dr. Robert Leonard of Cranston, he’ll appear in future print, radio and TV advertisements for his practice, Leonard Hair Transplant Associates. While most guys prefer to keep their treatments a secret (Tom Brady, cough, cough), we found it interesting that Welker is willing to let the truth be known. We called Dr. Leonard to find out what it was like to work with Welker, and why his candidness may inspire others to treat their own failing follicles.

Jamie: I think it’s great that Wes Welker is so open about it and willing to share, because for some men and women, isn’t it an embarrassing process?

Dr. Leonard: I have been in this field for twenty-six years, and hair restoration surgery or even coming to my office for evaluation can be very embarrassing. After all these years, I ask patients, and some say they don’t like the idea that other people might think it’s a vanity issue. I assure them, it’s not a vanity issue at all. Hair loss is something that bothers people tremendously, and transplantation is a natural process of moving hair follicles from the back of a person’s head to the top of the head. It’s not like there’s a hairpiece or a wig, or anything unnatural or not their own. I tell them, if they lost their front tooth, wouldn’t they replace it? What’s the difference? I have patients who are fathers and sons and brothers who have had transplants and they don’t tell anyone about it. If one patient just told his brother, or relative or friend, I could decrease my advertising budget dramatically. One out of every four women experiences hair loss as well. Women are more open about it. I think they talk to each other about something that’s bothering them. I have much more word of mouth referrals from women than from men. Now with Wes being involved and working with me to increase awareness, hopefully people will be more comfortable to talk about it with others.

When do you know you should start considering a hair transplant?

Hair loss is very insidious in most people. A scary statistic is that people only begin to notice hair thinning after fifty percent of the person’s hair has already fallen. The proverbial horse is already out of the barn before they realize what is going on. At first signs of thinning hair–whether it’s a snide comment from a friend, they see more hair in the drain or they notice thinning in the rearview mirror—patients should come in to be evaluated. It’s much easier to stop progression than it is to restore and re-grow hair. I don’t just do transplantation; I evaluate patients with hair loss and treat them medically as well. Hair loss can start at any age, in the mid- to late-teens all the way through the ninth decade of life.

When did Wes first come for a consultation?

He came for a consultation in mid- to late-June, and we talked about his particular hair loss situation. I always ask patients what’s bothering them. He said he needed to style his hair differently to cover it up. Very often young guys are concerned about the back of the head—or the crown of the head—as it thins out. Most often, it’s too soon to transplant the back of the head, because male pattern baldness is a progressive condition. If I transplant the crown today, then they will bald away from it and they’ll have an island of hair in the middle. With young men—and Wes is a young guy at thirty-one—I recommend non-surgical medical therapy to treat the back of the head. So we have Propecia, which is a pill. It’s extraordinarily effective. We have Rogaine foam, and I also have low-level laser therapy, which is a third option to stabilize progression and re-grow hair. But with Wes’s situation, his hair was thinning all over the head, especially in the frontal zone, so we transplanted and created a new hairline. That was done in early July, and now it’s a waiting time. The beauty of transplantation today is that it is undetectable compared to when I first entered this field many years ago. Today’s procedures provide a very natural look.

What are some of the myths about hair loss?

One is that frequent shampooing can cause hair loss, which is certainly not the case. Another very common one is wearing a baseball cap. Very often, I have a young guy in his late-teens come in with his mother for a consultation, and the mother takes me aside, and says, “Dr. Leonard, tell my son that baseball cap is causing his hair to fall out.” The last thing I want to do is contradict a mother, but it’s an old wive’s tale. Genetics, genetics, genetics cause hair loss.

So Wes can go ahead and wear a helmet this week at training camp?

Well not the same day as surgery, obviously. We decided to do it when we did, which was three or four weeks before he would be wearing a helmet during training camp. So everything fit perfectly with the timeframe as well as the way the helmet fits on his head.

And contrary to myth, the helmet didn’t cause the hair thinning?

The type of helmet most people talk about—many years ago during the war, when young men at seventeen or eighteen were drafted into the war for three or four years at a time—people thought the helmets caused baldness. But around that same age is when male pattern baldness begins to show its effects. Genetics would have kicked in whether they wore the helmet or not, but they always blamed the helmet.

So what did Wes do while he underwent the five-hour process?

It’s not five hours under the knife, it takes awhile to dissect the grafts. Patients are wide awake watching TV. Wes watched movies and emailed. I have 300 movies from which patients can choose. There’s some downtime and they can watch TV or do what they need to do. They can drive themselves to and from the office, and they leave the office without any post-operative bandages.

How much does it cost?

The fees for the transplant procedure ranges anywhere from $4,700 to $15,000 depending on how big of an area we do, and what technique is utilized. But I offer free consultations, so they can come in at no cost to them, and I’ll evaluate them and give them all the good, the bad, the ugly news about what can be done.

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