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Hofstra medical students to lose their locks for kids with cancer

Their thick manes in place for one more

Their thick manes in place for one more day. Hofstra med school students, from left,  Song Yun, Juana Vargas and Juan Andre Mauri, will get haircuts Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Juan Andre Mauri has let his hair grow long for 18 months, all in anticipation of getting most of it chopped off Wednesday.

Mauri, 27, is among the Hofstra University medical students donating their hair and raising money to help children with cancer.

The event is part of St. Baldrick's Day, a tradition started in 1999 by Rockville Centre resident John Bender after he and some friends challenged each other to find a way to help kids with cancer by raising money. 

So they offered to shave their heads, Bender said, and asked for financial donations in return. Twenty years later, an effort launched on Long Island has grown into an annual tradition observed nationally with people collecting donations and getting their hair cut way down. Since children with cancer often lose their hair as a result of medical treatment, the sheared locks can be donated to make wigs for the young patients.

On Wednesday, the Hofstra students will transform a room in the Zucker School of Medicine into the neighborhood barbershop, replete with professional haircutters and those vinyl smocks they throw over people.

Mauri's hair was a good 10 inches long Tuesday. The last few days he's had some second thoughts about getting his locks chopped off.

"It's become part of my identity," said Mauri, a second-year medical student, of the dark mane that extended past his shoulders.

The premium Mauri has put on his hair, now destined for the makeshift barber shop's floor, helped him better understand what children battling often lethal forms of cancer endure though medical treatment.

Worries of young cancer patients extend beyond how their heads look without hair but they still suffer emotionally when they lose it, he said.

"They can feel they stick out as the other," Mauri said. He feels a bit more solidarity with these kids, knowing his hair will become a wig they can wear.

"It can help return some of their self-identity."

About a dozen of the medical students have volunteered to get their hair cut. Some have raised money through donations, others will just donate hair. There is an 8-inch minimum length to donate. The larger Hofstra campus will hold a similar event closer to St. Patrick's Day, but the medical students do it early because of their examination schedule.

Mind you, there actually is no St. Baldrick — it's an amalgamation of "bald" and "Patrick." And since the tradition started at around the time of St. Patrick's Day, it has taken on part of the holiday's name and some of the day's celebratory spirit.

The events at Hofstra have been known to take on a raucous air — not unlike the Irish holiday from which the annual hair-cutting gets part of its name — with dozens of students filling the room to watch, goading their friends to get a buzz cut and cheering on those who take the leap.

Hofstra is in its 11th year of hosting a St. Baldrick's Day event. The medical school itself started its own event seven years ago. Last year, the Hofstra charity fundraiser raised $22,270, with the medical school contributing $12,500, said medical school spokeswoman Adrienne Stoller.

The money goes to the St. Baldrick Foundation in California.

In 2005, Bender and his friends started the foundation, which last year raised $35 million, according to its website. Bender said he has had his head shaved annually for the past 20 years.

"You can't ask people to do something you wouldn't do yourself," said Bender, 54.

In donating her locks, Juana Vargas said she sees it as giving her hair a "second life." The Hofstra medical student has let her dark hair grow since November and its sits just above her waist. The cutting will leave her hair hanging just below her shoulders.

"I've had a few friends who've battled cancer," said Vargas, 24. Besides, she added, "I like having short hair. Long hair is too much maintenance."

Steven Parra, another med student, is going all the way and having his entire head of black curly hair shaved off Wednesday. 

He's raised $500 in donations.

"A lot of my family think it's funny," said Parra, 27. "That's brought a lot of money coming in."

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