ATLANTA - With her scalp swollen by tissue expanders, Gladys White feels like she's standing on the brink of something big. It's her final visit with Morehouse Healthcare plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Dzifa Kpodzo before an operation that could be a game changer for Gladys.
"When I got burned and lost all my hair, to me, that was like losing part of me," says Gladys White.
Dr. Kpodzo says her patient's story is " very unique" because, for 56 years, Gladys has lived with the scars of a devastating house fire -- that happened when she was just two months old.
"In Gladys' case, her burn went down, pretty much close to her skull," Dr. Kpodzo.
Gladys on 60 to 65 percent of her body, surgeons had to rebuild her left arm. Placed in foster care,
she grew up in a hospital -- and has been wearing a wig -- or a scarf -- since she was 12.
"You just see people who have persevered through things and sometimes you think, how would I cope? What kind of person would I be if something like this happened to me?" says Dr. Kpodzo.
But Gladys is hopeful, even happy. Because after at least 100 surgeries, the mother of two -- and custodian -- is back at WellStar Atlanta Medical Center for a procedure that could give her the hair she's never had.
"I don't worry about this arm. I just like to have hair. Because I like wearing different hairstyles. I just want to feel kind of normal," says White.
Gladys' daughter Kisha Taylor says being able to live without wigs -- would be huge for her mom.
"And that's something that she's always wanted, that people take for granted and that's a big deal for her. That is big to her," recalls Taylor.
So, with the OR being prepped, Gladys couldn't be more ready.
"When God sends the right people to do something for you, you're good. And I got the right people," says Gladys.
This the second of a two-part procedure. The team repairs a small hole in Gladys' skull that has been causing crippling headaches for a couple of years. Then Dr. Kpozo stretches the non-burned area of her scalp that has hair -- the skin they've been expanding for months -- over as much of the scarred scalp tissue as possible. The hope is, as the scalp heals, the hair will grow.
"It's going to be much closer to normal, which is the nice part of this option. This wasn't her only surgical option, but it's the surgical option that will give her the best cosmetic outcome also," says the Morehouse Medical School professor.
A day later, Gladys is back home, packing up wigs that have been part of her life for 44 years.
She'll donate them -- because, she hopes, she won't need them anymore.
"The only pain I have is joy pain. If anybody knows how it feels to be happy and complete right now it's me. I feel so complete now."