I had a 7lbs hairball surgically removed at Alder Hey after eating my own hair to cope with school bullying

"It was the size of a rugby ball and had to be cut into four pieces to get it out. It had to lifted out with two hands."
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A teen who had a 7lb hairball removed from her stomach after eating her own locks is now delighted her hair is growing back. Melissa Williams, 15, was just 13 when she was hospitalised after being unable to keep her food down. Doctors discovered a clump of hair the size of a rugby ball in her stomach and performed life saving surgery to remove it - by cutting it into four pieces.

Unbeknown to parents Jackie Williams, 42, and Gary Jones, 50, Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Two years on, Melissa's hair is growing back 'beautifully' and she has started taking her GCSE'S.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jackie, a teaching assistant, from Liverpool, said: "She was very withdrawn. She wasn’t socialising with friends and then I noticed that her hair was getting shorter and shorter. She ended up staying off school because it wasn’t just one person bullying her, it was the whole class.

"She had lost a lot of weight and I thought she had an eating disorder at the start. She said 'no mum it just hurts when I eat. I feel like food is stuck in my throat'. If we hadn’t taken her when we did she would not have made it. It was that serious. It's nice to see how much she's grown. It nice to see her with long hair."

When Melissa started complaining of pain, Jackie took her daughter to the doctors to work out what was wrong. She said: “She had been doing it for two to three years but we had no idea until her health deteriorated."

When Melissa's pain got worse Jackie took her to Alder Hay Hospital where an X-ray revealed a huge mass measuring between 8 and 10cm in her stomach in September 2021. Melissa was also diagnosed with trichotillomania - the compulsive urge to pull out your hair. Gary said: "We found odd clumps of hair in her room. We mentioned that to her and that is when she said she had been eating it."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jackie said: “Because it was so big it had to be surgically removed. It was the size of a rugby ball and had to be cut into four pieces to get it out. It had to lifted out with two hands." Melissa underwent surgery in October 2021 at Alder Hay Hospital and stayed in hospital for three weeks after battling four infections.

Melissa has since been receiving help from her school and Child and Adolescents Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to learn to cope with her anxiety with breathing techniques and medical cannabis treatment.

Melissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNSMelissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNS
Melissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNS
Melissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNSMelissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNS
Melissa Williams had to go to hospital to have the hairball removed. Melissa had been eating her own hair to deal with her anxiety and bullying - a condition know as Rapunzel Syndrome. Image: Jackie Williams / SWNS

Jackie said: “She is slowly getting a lot better. Her hair has grown back beautifully. It’s just nice to see how far she’s come, now she’s looking forward to going to her prom which I never thought I’d get her to go to. She still pulls her hair and sucks on it. She'll always have it it's a case of managing it."

Gary said: "Her hair is three times the length of what it was originally. It was around ear length before."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Melissa and her family want to raise awareness to help identify other children who suffer from Rapunzel Syndrome. She won the Liverpool child of courage award Novemeber 2022 and is now looking forward to going to college in September to study health and social care to go on to be a nursery teacher.

Jackie said: “What helped Mel through was sharing her story was she felt she was really helping other people who are going through the same. She felt that at the time she couldn’t tell anyone because she was too ashamed. It’s better to catch it early and get that early intervention. That could have avoided her going to surgery. It’s just knowing what your child is going through and checking with schools, because children do mask their emotions a lot.”

Melissa said: "I hope anyone going through the same thing as me, can see that my story shows many that you shouldn't feel alone. What I would say is talk to someone you trust rather than hide and suffer in silence."