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Yale dermatologist uses innovative treatment to treat child with severe alopecia


American Academy of Dermatology honors Dr. Brett King as National "Patient Care Hero"

ROSEMONT, Ill. (April 18, 2022) - Connecticut board-certified dermatologist Brett King MD, PhD, FAAD, was named an American Academy of Dermatology Patient Care Hero for pioneering an innovative new treatment for severe dermatologic conditions that are sometimes disabling, sometimes disfiguring, and usually uncomfortable, thus restoring normalcy and improving patients’ lives.

For 13-year-old Matthew Riccardi of Northbrook, Ill., life took an unexpected turn when his parents noticed a small patch of hair missing from his head. His pediatrician diagnosed him with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, causing hair loss. While alopecia can happen at any age, for many patients alopecia begins during childhood or teenage years.

Within two weeks of the diagnosis, Matthew lost all hair on his head, followed by his eyebrows and eyelashes shortly after. Following ineffective topical treatments and other medications to stop his immune system from damaging his hair follicles, Matthew’s parents contacted Dr. King, who recommended using Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, an innovative new treatment which blocks the cell communication that causes various skin diseases, including alopecia areata. Five months later, Matthew had a full head of hair once again.

"Understanding patients’ conditions and how to make them better is a never-ending exploration, and it’s critically important because we can alleviate immense suffering and restore normalcy,” said Dr. King, associate professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. “There’s such a desire and need for innovative treatments, as skin conditions can have devastating effects on patients, and those around them, like Matthew and his family endured.”

The severity of the hair loss drastically affected Matthew’s confidence and mental health. Before Dr. King’s treatment, Matthew’s parents said he became a shell of his once happy-go-lucky self. Research shows many people diagnosed with alopecia also struggle with mental health conditions or disorders, particularly depression and anxiety.

“We weren’t prepared for the immense mental toll that Matthew’s alopecia areata would have on him. As much as we wanted to fix his hair, we desperately wanted him to regain his confidence and love of life,” said Jamie Riccardi, Matthew’s mother. “Dr. King did much more than treat Matthew’s alopecia — he changed his life.”

The AAD created the Patient Care Heroes program to recognize physicians who transform patients’ lives by utilizing their expertise and collaborating with other physicians.

“Dr. King's approach to using innovative JAK therapies showcases how dermatologists advance new treatments and transform lives," said board-certified dermatologist Mark D. Kaufmann, MD, FAAD, president of the AAD. "Effective care is critical to a patient’s quality of life.”

Learn more about the work of Dr. King.

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About SkinSerious

SkinSerious is a campaign by the American Academy of Dermatology that highlights dermatologists’ role as partners in the health care system, providing expert care for serious conditions. To learn more, visit SkinSerious.org.

About the AAD

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin) or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).