How I Help People Understand Vitiligo: Lee Thomas (Transcript)

Simple plan.

But it turned out to be more difficult than I thought. But over time, things started to go OK. Like this one time, I’m at the store and this dude is like staring at me, like burning a hole in the side of my head. I’m shopping, he’s staring at me, I’m going to the checkout, he’s staring at me, I’m checking out, he’s on the other line checking out, he’s staring at me, we go to the exit, he’s still staring at me, so I see he’s staring.

And finally I turn to him and I go, “Hey buddy, what’s up!”

And he goes … “Hi!”

Awkward. So to relieve the tension, I say, “It’s just a skin disorder. It’s not contagious, it’s not life-threatening, it just makes me look a little different.”

I end up talking to that guy for like five minutes. It was kind of cool, right?

And at the end of our conversation, he says, “You know, if you didn’t have ‘vitilargo'” — it’s actually vitiligo, but he was trying, so — “if you didn’t have vitilargo, you’d look just like that guy on TV.”

And I was like, “Haha, yeah, I get that, I get that, yeah.”

So things were going OK. I was having more good exchanges than bad, until that day. I had a little time before work so I like to stop by the park to watch the kids play. They’re funny.

So I got a little too close, this little girl wasn’t paying attention, she’s about two or three years old, she’s running, she runs directly into my leg and falls down, pretty hard. I thought she hurt herself, so I reach out to try and help the little girl and she looks at my vitiligo and she screams!

Now kids are pure honesty. She’s like two or three. This little girl, she wasn’t trying to be mean. She didn’t have any malice in her heart. This little girl was afraid. She was just afraid. I didn’t know what to do.

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I just took a step back and put my hands by my side. I stayed in the house for two weeks and three days on that one. It took me a second to get my mind around the fact that I scare small children. And that was something that I could not smile away.

But I jumped back on my plan and just put on my blinders, started going back out. Two months later, I’m in a grocery store reaching on the bottom shelf, and I hear a little voice go, “You’ve got a boo-boo?” It’s like a two-year-old, three-year-old, same age, little girl, but she’s not crying.

So I kneel down in front of her and I don’t speak two-year-old so I look up at the mom, and I say, “What did she say?”

And she says, “She thinks you have a boo-boo.”

So I go, “No, I don’t have a boo-boo, no, not at all.”

And the little girl says, “Duh-duh-hoy?”

And so I look to mom for the translation, and she says, “She thinks you’re hurt.”

And I say, “No, sweetie, I’m not hurt at all, I’m fine.”

And the little girl reaches out with that little hand and touches my face. She’s trying to rub the chocolate into the vanilla or whatever she was doing. It was amazing! It was awesome.

Because she thought she knew what it was, she was giving me everything I wanted: kindness, compassion. And with the touch of that little hand, she healed a grown man’s pain. Yee-ha. Healed.

I smiled for a long time on that one.

Positivity is something worth fighting for, and the fight is not with others — it’s internal. If you want to make positive changes in your life, you have to consistently be positive.

My blood type is actually B positive. I know, corny TV guy dad joke, my daughter hates it, but I don’t care. Be positive!

A 14-year-old boy years ago — this kid had vitiligo — he asked me to show my face on television. I wasn’t going to do it, we’ve been over this, I thought I was going to lose my job, but the kid convinced me by saying, “If you show people what you look like and explain this to them, maybe they will treat me differently.”

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Boom! Blinders off. I did a TV report, got an overwhelming response. So I didn’t know what to do. I took the attention and focused it back on the kid and other people that have vitiligo.

I started a support group. Pretty soon, we noticed “VITFriends” and “V-Strong” support groups all over the country. In 2016, we all came together and celebrated World Vitiligo Day. This past June 25, we had over 300 people, all in celebration of our annual event. It was amazing.

Thanks.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say it was quick or easy for me to find a positive place living with this disease, but I found it.

But I also got much more. I became a better man, the man I always wanted to be, the kind of guy who can stand up in front of a room full of strangers and tell some of the toughest stories in his life and end it all with a smile, and find happiness in the fact that you all just smiled back.

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