Erin Parisi doesn’t think small. In 2017, she set out to accomplish a feat only a few hundred other people have achieved: climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on every continent. She’s well on her way, having topped out on her fourth mountain, 22,837-foot-tall Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, in February. She plans to complete the endeavor on Mt. Everest. When she takes that final step, she won’t only be joining a prestigious group—she’ll be setting a record all her own. Parisi is aiming to become the first openly transgender woman to conquer the Seven Summits.
If you were to ask the Denver-based adventurer (she’s climbed 20 of Colorado’s fourteeners) what one item she credits with her success so far, she won’t mention an ultra-light backpack or a pair of comfortable hiking boots or a jacket that saved her in inclement weather. In fact, Parisi’s magic aid isn’t a piece of gear at all. It’s her hair. “It might seem small in comparison to climbing mountains, but it means everything to me in terms of my confidence,” she says.
Parisi was 38 years old when she began her transition. She was already self-conscious about her thinning hairline, which had started receding in her mid-20s. Then a facial feminization surgery left her with a visible scar from temple to temple, and she decided to seek professional help. Parisi connected with her cosmetic surgeon who referred her to Dr. James Harris, director of the Hair Sciences Center of Colorado (HSC) in Greenwood Village.
Harris is an internationally recognized hair transplant surgeon who has propelled the field forward with his innovations, including his own advanced method of follicular unit extraction (a method of obtaining hair follicles for transplantation) and his work helping to develop the ARTAS robot, which uses algorithms to select the best hair follicles for every patient. HSC offers a broad array of services, from eyebrow transplants to eyelash transplants to non-surgical hair restoration treatments. (See the results of many of these options in these hair transplant before-and-after photos.) Harris and HSC have successfully performed thousands of hair transplant procedures, with almost all patients stating that they are “happy or very happy with their results”—putting to rest the ubiquitous “Do hair transplants work?” question
Parisi, acutely aware of the stigma and disparagement transgender individuals often encounter in health care settings, found herself immediately at ease with Harris and HSC. The staff established trust by respecting her chosen pronoun, even noting her preferred name in their records. “We all have the right to expect empathetic and welcome care, but we don’t always get that. At HSC, the whole staff is amazing,” she says. “It means everything to me.”
Harris’ hair loss treatment plan for Parisi involved the follicular unit strip method, in which hair follicles are taken from a non-balding area of the scalp and then transplanted into the thinning spots. She underwent a second procedure 11 months later to boost the results. The surgeries covered Parisi’s scar and moved her temple hairline forward two inches.
Surgery has been a regular part of Parisi’s life since she decided to transition, but she had no qualms about adding hair transplant procedures to the list. Harris “put the finishing touches” on her transition, she says. “Now it’s real.”
The hair restoration process also helped restore Parisi’s fragmented self-confidence. Through the process of transitioning, Parisi lost her wife and her voice (for a month, while recovering from larynx reconstruction). It was during that overwhelming period of change and uncertainty—and silence—that she set her sights on the Seven Summits.
Her goal isn’t just about putting one foot in front of the other on a trail, though; it also requires Parisi to stand up in front of large groups in order to raise money and acquire brand sponsors. “I can’t imagine doing all those presentations without this surgery,” the now-42-year-old says. “[Without HSC], I’d never have the confidence to stand up and…and solicit the sponsors I need.”
Parisi founded TranSending, a nonprofit that aims to advance transgender rights through athletics. Her Seven Summits effort is the organization’s inaugural challenge. “Transgender people are not encouraged to participate in sports,” she says, but, “There are ways for us to compete, and we can combat all that negativity.”
Parisi is doing it one mountain at a time.
Get In Touch: Do hair transplants work? View hair transplant before-and-after photos on the HSC website. Or, if you’re concerned about hair loss, contact Dr. Harris for a consultation. Simply call 303-694-9381 or fill out the online contact form and an HSC staffer will reach out to you. Learn more about the hair restoration process by following HSC’s YouTube channel.
5445 DTC Parkway, Suite 1015, Greenwood Village