Combing through a hair treatment that went bad

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Shlomo Brooks might want to consider himself lucky that his biggest problem with a West Los Angeles hair-replacement clinic is that his hair isn't any thicker.

At least that's my feeling after looking into Brooks' dealings with a man who now faces criminal charges of impersonating a doctor and was sued as part of a wrongful death civil case involving a former patient.

Brooks, 72, said he paid $2,200 last year at a place called Medical Hair Replacement Center for a procedure intended to address thinning hair on the front and sides of his head.

He waited almost a year for improvement but saw no appreciable difference in his appearance. Brooks said he went back to the clinic and asked for his money back. They blew him off, he said.

"They said they'd stand by the procedure," Brooks told me. "Now they won't even respond to my letters."

Maybe a lack of accessibility is common among hair-replacement professionals. I had my own difficulties chasing down not just the guy Brooks dealt with but others in the field.

It should come as no surprise, considering the region's commitment to looking good, that there are dozens of hair-replacement facilities in Southern California, many clustered in and around Beverly Hills.

The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, a trade group, estimates that the global market for such procedures is worth almost $2 billion, up 48% since 2008 — a sign, perhaps, that once the recession ended, so did many people's patience with thinning hair.

The United States accounts for 40% of hair surgeries worldwide, the organization says, with men representing 89% of those seeking medical assistance for one of nature's crueler acts.

Brooks, of West L.A., counted himself among that number. After dying his graying hair black for about 20 years, he decided last September that his painted locks had grown too sparse. He looked to science for a solution.

Most of the hair-restoration clinics he visited quoted a price near $4,000 for various types of procedures, ranging from transplants to plugs.

Finally, Brooks said, he stopped by Medical Hair Replacement Center, near the corner of Robertson and Olympic boulevards, where he met a man named John A. Lord, who identified himself as the owner.

"He was a charmer," Brooks said. "A real smoothie."

He said Lord quoted a price of $2,500 but then discounted it to $2,200.

The procedure offered was called a follicular unit extraction, which consists of moving one or two strands of hair at a time from one part of the scalp to another.

"Lord said that after the grafts were done, they'd grow out in about eight months," Brooks recalled. "I waited 10 months and then I got worried. No hairs grew. Not one that I could see."

Worse, he said, his hair didn't grow back fully on the parts of his scalp that were shaved for the treatment.

Brooks said he visited the clinic in June but was unable to meet with either Lord or the doctor who'd performed the procedure, identified by Brooks as Milton Miller, who did not return a call for comment.

He said he was told by a staffer that there was nothing that could be done to address his complaints. He wrote a letter last month requesting a refund. No answer.

So Brooks came my way. And I started turning over rocks.

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