‘Recognizing a Patient’s Identity Helps Them Heal’: Black Pediatrician Creates Hair Kit for Young Patients With Textured Hair

A negative hair experience can affect not only a girl’s relationship with her hair but also her own self-esteem. Pediatric intensive care physician Dr. Nekaiya “Kay” Jacobs noticed how hair identity affected the healing process for her young female patients, especially young Black girls. So she came up with a solution.

Dr. Nekaiya “Kay” Jacobs (Photo: Screenshot, Good Morning America)

Based in Illinois, she’s created inclusive hair kits for her ICU patients filled with textured-hair products for curls and coils. The products can be used on boys as well.

Inside the Inclusive Hair Kit

The small kits contain textured hair products, including curl-safe shampoo and conditioner, a wide-toothed comb, a firm bristle brush and a hair bonnet.

“I want patients and families to know that we care about each of them as individuals,” Dr. Jacobs, a critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge in suburban Chicago, told “Good Morning America.” “We’re here to take care of all of you, not just to give you medicine.”

The hair kits are distributed throughout Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care, two not-for-profit healthcare providers serving Midwest communities throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

“Hair is part of a person’s identity, and recognizing a patient’s identity helps them heal faster,” Jacobs said.

Hair and Healing

Some of her patients are also dealing with hair loss due to some drug treatments such as chemotherapy. Jacobs said she launched her hair kits to heal her patients, saying intensive care unit patients undergo procedures that affect their hair. Regaining confidence is part of the healing process, she added.

The initiative started in January after Jacobs noticed “multiple children experience adverse hair events while in the intensive care unit,” Advocate Aurora Health newsletter reports.

“Our patients who have coily or kinky or wavy hair textures, or our patients with more protective styles like braids, really didn’t have the tools that they needed to be able to care for their hair texture,” Jacobs said.

She remembers one young patient “was immobile in her hospital bed, and her hair hadn’t been protected. By the time she was able to move, the back of her head was bald.”

Jacobs and her colleagues started out distributing approximately 200 kits to each Advocate Children’s campus. They soon received multiple requests from other service units interested in providing them to patients.

Good Morning America” reported that Jacobs’ initiative is now getting funding from the hospital’s diversity and inclusion budget.

“We just sat down and said, ‘These are the tools that we would want if we were in the hospital.’ And then we went from there, talking to a lot of our administrators who were really excited to hear about the project and really just supported us,” she added.

Jacobs and her coworkers, established a textured hair care council within the Advocate Children’s hospital system. 

“As clinicians, we understand that how you feel about yourself is important. That’s usually the first thing a person apologizes for when a clinician enters the room. Being hospitalized can take a person’s confidence away. We know how important it is to feel like yourself,” Jacobs said. 

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