As the point man on Marty Walsh’s staff, Dan Koh is part of a dynamic…
The Well Done Man – Dr. Robert Leonard
The Well Done Man is a biographical interview with a Bostonian who is doing exceptional things. It is meant to give insight and knowledge regarding each interviewee’s vision of success and how, beyond their obvious talents, they have reached this point in their lives and careers.
The chances are very good that at some point in your life your hair will start to fall out and it won’t grow back. For over 30 years, Dr. Robert Leonard has dedicated his career to helping men and women with this common affliction. He is one of the foremost authorities on hair loss prevention and restoration and his patients include Kevin Chapman, Wes Welker, Rob Ninkovich, Brian Scalabrini and dozens of other household names. We sat down with Dr. Leonard to talk about his career and to get an update on where this industry is and where it is heading.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was raised in Arlington, MA and growing up I either wanted to be a Doctor or a Marine Biologist. When I graduated from Arlington High School, my great grandmother got very sick. I was very close to her so I spent a lot of time with her in the hospital during her last days. After that experience I knew I wanted to be a Doctor. I went to UNH for undergraduate studies and after that was very blessed to be accepted at the University of New England college of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, ME. I met my wife there. She was a classmate of mine and we got married in our second year of medical school. We’ve been married now for 32 years. We did our internships in Florida where I was really fortunate to have met the doctor who ended up training me in hair transplant surgery. His name was Dr. Chambers and he was Greek, which happened to be my heritage, so the stars were aligning. Dr. Chambers had 18 offices around the eastern half of the United States. I met him when I was interning near his main office. Originally, my goal was to be an obstetrician/gynecologist; however, he tried to convince me to come work for him. I said “thank you, but I have to do what I want to do” so we moved from beautiful Clearwater Beach to Toledo, OH, where I began a 5-year residency in OB/GYN surgery.
After several months in OB/GYN, I started thinking that this life isn’t for me. I saw every other pregnant woman in Toledo except for my wife, who was also pregnant with our first child! Additionally, every other obstetrician that I knew, to the person, had at least one divorce. That’s when I called Dr. Chambers and said, “Are you still willing to train me?” and he said, “Yes.” So I left my residency, which is very unusual, then we sold our house, and I then started training with him. I became board certified and initially we moved to Rhode Island where my wife was raised.
I opened my first office in Providence in April of 1989. Eventually I knew we needed to branch out of Rhode Island and, because my transplant techniques were new to the Northeast, the media gave us a lot of coverage when we opened our first Massachusetts office in Burlington. The practice grew and grew and finally, after 27 years in a solo practice, I thought we needed some help.
About 13 years ago, I had a medical student train for a month with me and I really was impressed with him. I liked how he treated patients and his demeanor. I told him that someday I was going to call him when I needed help. So I did! He answered my call by saying, “Doc, I’ve been waiting for your call.” His name is Dr. Matthew Lopresti and he’s been with me for about 4 years. I trained him myself and this year was the first time in my career I took 2 weeks off in row from work! He actually performed my transplant, so I obviously trust him implicitly. Now we have 7 offices and we’re working together to cover Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
So today a lot of people know you from your commercials and your high profile patients. When did you turn the corner from having a successful practice to being the personality that most people know now?
I think it began when I first started the practice because I have always been outward in telling people what I can do for them. A lot of people think this is a cosmetic thing, not medical, but this is absolutely medical. By doing a lot of public relations early on in my career, my reputation and credibility grew. Having famous people choose me to be their hair restoration surgeon and those being who were willing to talk about, that elevated things quite a bit.
What does your typical patient look like?
They range from people in their 20’s to their 90’s. It’s funny when a 21-year-old kid comes in he’ll say, “when I’m 25 it won’t bother me“ or “when I get married it won’t bother me”. I know, however, it bothers everybody at some time in their lives. It doesn’t matter what age you are. For years and years our average age of surgery patients used to be 49, but now it’s come down closer to 39. So it’s a field that is getting younger. I’m happy about that because the younger you come in, the sooner we can stop the progression of hair loss. Women also have hair loss, which comprises a fairly large percentage of our patient population.
How do you typically help your patients?
The bottom line is hair loss is genetic. 1 out of every 2 men experiences some hair loss due to male pattern baldness. You can’t change those genes! A predetermined signal happens that tells the hair growth cycle to stop and hairs miniaturize; however, people don’t go bald overnight. You have long robust hairs called the terminal hairs, over time, miniaturize and lose pigment.
What’s scary is that for most guys, 50% of their hair is gone before they start to take notice. Some trigger happens where they reach a certain threshold or some guys get a wisecrack from a friend or maybe they get a sunburn, like me. I started Propecia immediately after that. The idea is to stop the progression before it gets worse. Right now there are only three things that are scientifically proven to stop hair loss. First, the Propecia pill, which works in the crown or the bald spot area in the back of the scalp. It works very well to stop further progression as well as regrow hair. Also, Rogaine Foam has been around forever and you’ll read that it only works on the crown, but we know through clinical studies, that it works all over the head. Another very effective treatment is laser therapy, which is a home-use device called Capillus272 PRO that is worn for 30 minutes every other day. Laser therapy actually stabilizes 90% of hair loss all over the head and regrows hair in 60% of patients.
Would you say hair restoration is becoming more mainstream?
The privacy issue is a big deal, but it has gotten a lot better over the years. When Propecia came out 17 years ago, it was the first time a prescription hair loss medication was advertised to the general public. People who were thinking about hair loss started realizing it was something that was happening to other people and could be talked about. The other way in which privacy affects my practice is that I have very little word of mouth referrals since so many patients remain private about their hair restoration. A very small percentage of my patients will tell their friends and family that they had a transplant. That’s why we need to advertise. I think honestly, if one patient told one person each I could cut my advertising budget in half.
You’ve got some pretty high profile patients like Wes Welker, Rob Ninkovich and Tom Curran. Why have you been successful in working with these big names?
Those guys all came to me directly and they’re really wonderful people. I told Wes that we could meet at night or could come in the back door but he said, “no, no.” He sat in the waiting room and filled out the paperwork. Rob didn’t have surgery; he’s doing Rogaine, Propecia, and the Capillus 272 PRO, but he also is very open about trying to help people understand that this isn’t a big deal and people are listening. In fact, a patient recently told me that he decided to come to me having known that these players could go to anyone in the world for help, and they chose me. That spoke volumes to him.
How does someone know they are ready for your services?
When the hair loss bothers them, that’s when they should come in. It’s easier to keep the hair than to restore it. If hair loss bothers somebody, it’s worthwhile to get honest and realistic information from us and then they can make a decision as to what’s best for them.
Can you look at someone’s scalp and accurately predict how they will lose their hair or how much time they have left?
I tell people only God above can determine the future. I don’t have a crystal ball; however with my experience, I can have a good idea what probably happen. What I can promise you is that if you don’t treat your hair loss today, then you will have less hair next year. We don’t promise a lot in medicine, but I can promise people that. That’s why I’m very high on prevention.
How long does the prevention process take?
It takes about four months to have anything affect the hair follicle, so that’s the ramp up time. We tell non-surgical patients that it takes about four months to see less hair on the brush, in the drain, or on the books when they’re studying.
Do you think hair loss prevention and restoration is more accepted socially now then when you first started?
Absolutely, but it’s still not where I think it should be. I had a patient today who had surgery in the summer of 2014. He also used the Capillus272 PRO laser therapy device for further prevention and it has been a dramatic difference. So I asked him if would you mind writing a testimonial and he said, “Doc, I’ll come on TV with you!” That’s the rare patient, but this guy is now a handsome and confident young man. It’s not that he wasn’t before, but he was kind of down because he had a lot of hair loss…and now he’s going to be our next guy on TV. He’s a regular guy. I want more of those patients who are open about it.
What types of technologies are now allowing you to be more effective?
The next thing that is going to come out is cloning for surgery patients, which is something people have been talking about since I started in this field in 1986. This is where we will take just a few follicles from the scalp and they will be able replicate an unlimited supply. I think we are going to see something like this over the next ten years.
Do you have any advice for aspiring hair Doctors?
The problem of getting into hair transplant surgery now is that there are no residencies programs in this field. Doctors from a variety of fields come to this industry. It is helpful to find a doctor to train you, which is what I have done with Dr. Lopresti and what Dr. Chambers did for me. There are also fellowships that you can find, but most doctors learn from someone who’s already doing it.