If anyone had said to me a few years ago that I would undergo a hair transplant, I would have laughed out loud. Okay, I could no longer get away with a Morrissey quiff or a Liam Gallagher feather cut, but I wasn’t in particularly bad shape up top. However, since moving to Singapore in 2011, my hairline has travelled further south than Roald Amundsen.
So what were the options? Accept my receding hairline as part of the natural ageing process? Shave it all off? Actually, this wasn’t an option – I’ve got so many scars on my head from sporting injuries and childhood accidents that I’d look gruesome with a close crop. And you never know whether the shape of your head will suit a grade one until you actually take the plunge. Chances are I’d look like Sloth from The Goonies.
The third option, and one that I’d never even considered until a chance conversation with Dr Harold Ma at Freia Medical, was a transplantation procedure using the revolutionary new ARTAS machine. He insisted that it was painless, and that the recovery time was minimal.
I was still mulling it over last August just prior to the new football season when fate intervened. I’d been asked to give my pre-season tips by The New Paper, and my words were accompanied by a caricature photo of myself with a hairline that had receded so much I looked like the 1970s snooker player, Ray Reardon.
My mind was made up. If it’s good enough for Wayne Rooney, it’d do for me. And thankfully my hairline was in far better shape than the England striker’s was when he underwent his procedure, so it was nowhere near as expensive.
My only previous experience of undergoing any kind of surgery was back in 1985 when I had my tonsils removed. I vividly remember eating mountains of ice cream in an attempt to nurse a throat that was as raw as botulism, and watching a bizarrely addictive Australian soap opera called Neighbours that had just hit UK TV screens. Thankfully, the hair transplant procedure promised to be far less painful than watching the goings on in Ramsay Street, and the various travails of Scott, Charlene and Plain Jane Superbrain.
After dropping a mild, pre-op sedative, I eased into position in the ARTAS machine – think of sitting on a motorbike with your head propped forward on a cushion. I was relaxed, and all I felt as the hair roots were extracted from the back of my head was a slight tingling sensation.
After two hours, which flew by, we broke for lunch and then in the afternoon the extracted hair roots were manually transplanted into the receding areas at the front of my head. It sounds strange, but, following another sedative, it was actually a really relaxing afternoon. I read a book while the nurses got on with the job at hand, and I genuinely didn’t feel a thing.
The following day I returned to the clinic to have the bandages removed and that was that – apart from a small swelling on my forehead that cleared up within 48 hours there were no visible signs of having undergone an operation.
The hardest thing was trying to refrain from playing football for a couple of weeks – heading the ball is pretty unavoidable, and the new grafts remain fragile for the first few days or so.
Meet the man behind the ARTAS machine
A specialist in laser, aesthetics and aesthetic surgery, Dr Harold Ma graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1999, and has since worked with top-class doctors around the world.
He first learnt of the concept of hair transplantation back in 2006 in Europe, at a time when very few doctors were aware of the procedure, and he subsequently brought the technology and skills back to Singapore.
“I’ve been performing hair transplant procedures for many years now. I started out with the traditional Strip/FUT method, then introduced the painless, scar-less FUE technique. But since 2013, I’ve mainly been using the ARTAS Robotic FUE procedure, which is pretty revolutionary,” said Dr Ma.
“I’m passionate about creating a natural hairline, and I firmly believe that every single hair graft is precious and has to be utilised properly in order to achieve the best results.
“Even though I’m a big believer in ARTAS, I tailor the treatment to suit every individual, as no two persons are the same. I see a wide variety of people; with Singapore being so cosmpolitan, there’s obviously a mix of regional and international patients.”