Lori's Vitiligo Story

Lori Harris of Detroit is among the estimated 100 million people worldwide living with the skin disease vitiligo, which causes areas of the skin to turn white. While vitiligo can have a social stigma, Harris hasn’t allowed it to affect her quality of life.

The divorced mom balances a busy home and work life, raising her 8-year-old twins (she also has an older son, 22, and daughter, 17) and teaching middle school students in the Detroit Public Schools. And she uses the opportunity in the classroom to educate her students about vitiligo.

“I tell them I have the Michael Jackson disease, and they go, ‘Oh, ok,’” Harris says. “If I’d tell them I have vitiligo, they wouldn’t understand what it is.”

The late music entertainer who died June 25, 2009 suffered from vitiligo for more than 20 years. In memoriam of Jackson, the Vitiligo Research Foundation designated June 25 as World Vitiligo Day to raise awareness of vitiligo and increase efforts for research and treatments. Henry Ford Hospital, a worldwide leader in vitiligo research, is participating in the awareness campaign.

In 2005 Harris was diagnosed with vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes the skin to lose its natural pigmentation and develop white patches that vary in size and location. While it has no cure, vitiligo can be managed with topical medications, light therapy and creams.

Harris later enrolled in a research study at Henry Ford – the first study of its kind in the United States led by dermatologists Henry Lim, M.D., and Iltefat Hamzavi, M.D. – that tested the effectiveness of skin transplant surgery as a new treatment option. Known as melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation, or MKTP, the surgery involves using skin cells taken from normally-pigmented areas of the body and transferring them to the damaged area of skin. It is performed under local anesthesia as an outpatient procedure.

In 2011, the Archives of Dermatology, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association, published the findings, which showed that the treated area regained on average 52 percent of its natural skin color. In eight patients with a specific type of vitiligo, the treated area regained on average 74 percent of its natural skin color.

Harris was happy with the results, saying “it blended really nice.” She’s hoping other research studies become available. In the meanwhile, she encourages people with vitiligo to consider a support group like the Southeast Michigan Vitiligo Support Group.

“It’s really great to know you’re not alone,” she says. “Sometimes you find out from other people the different make-ups people are using or different remedies that are helping them out and may help you."

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