A few years ago, Charlie Villanueva saw what was developing with his life and suddenly saw himself as the chosen one.
The person chosen to educate people about a disease called alopecia.
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes a person to lose hair all over the body. And because it affects people of all ages, races and genders, the repercussions can be devastating.
“There are kids and adults that have committed suicide over this,” said Villanueva, who is a reserve forward for the Dallas Mavericks. “It’s not a life-threatening disease, that’s why a lot of people overlook it.
“But it’s life-threatening because emotionally and mentally it can screw you up with the bullying and not feeling confident and low self-esteem. It definitely has its downside.”
That’s why Villanueva has set out to educate people about alopecia. He has been afflicted with the disease, and is putting together a movie about how it has affected his life.
I lost [the hair] at 10 and it grew back at 11, and it fell off again at 12. So I’ve been dealing with it ever since. It’s very tough. It’s extremely tough. But I’m just trying to create awareness, and if I can save one life and if I can educate one bully, why not?
Mavericks’ Charlie Villanueva
Villanueva has had two screenings — in Dallas and New York. A third screening is scheduled for Sunday in Toronto during the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
By September, Villanueva hopes to have raised enough money to have the project finished and in movie theaters around the world.
“It’s very important to me because it’s what I’ve been through and I think it hasn’t really been a movie out about that,” Villanueva said. “And the fact that if I can change one life, then I did my job.
“I think a lot of people don’t know exactly what I have or what I’ve been through. So this just kind of gives them another perspective of my life and what I’ve been through and what alopecia is.”
Now 31, Villanueva developed alopecia at an early age. Neither he nor his parents knew was what happening when hair started falling off his body.
Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford and Ryan Shazier of the Pittsburgh Steelers also have alopecia.
“I lost [the hair] at 10 and it grew back at 11, and it fell off again at 12,” Villanueva said. “So I’ve been dealing with it ever since. It’s very tough. It’s extremely tough. But I’m just trying to create awareness, and if I can save one life and if I can educate one bully, why not?”
Since he is a spokesman for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and has also made anti-bullying in American public schools his own foundation’s primary purpose and initiative, Villanueva wants to get the word out that the teasing and bullying must be eradicated.
Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford, who just finished his fourth NFL season and second in Dallas, also has alopecia. Additionally, Villanueva said Ryan Shazier, a 23-year-old second-year linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was diagnosed with alopecia when he was 5.
“He’s actually going to be in the movie,” Villanueva said of Shazier. “We went out to Pittsburgh and he was real supportive of the whole movie. He actually reached out to me on Instagram and wanted to be involved. So that was pretty cool that another player wanted to reach out and create some awareness.”
Toronto used the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft to select Villanueva. That’s one reason he’s having a screening in the fifth-largest city in North America.
“That’s where it all started for me and at the same time I have a son out there, too,” Villanueva said. “Toronto will always have a special place in my heart, and the other reason why I’m doing this is there’s going to be a day that I’m not going to be welcomed on this earth anymore, but that message is going to live.
“It’s about leaving a legacy as well. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I didn’t have anybody to look up to who was in the limelight that experienced alopecia, but now that I was put in that position, I’m able to help others. That’s my purpose and fulfilling that means the world to me.”