Last week’s viral fixation was the saga of Tessica Brown, who had misguidedly replaced her favorite gel with a bottle of Gorilla Glue—and gotten stuck with a rock-hard head of hair. Thankfully, after a well-documented and traumatic journey, which included a fruitless hospital trip, weeks of excruciating headaches, and a friend managing to saw off her ponytail, a bottom-of-the-ninth hero entered the picture in the form of Dr. Michael K. Obeng. The Beverly Hills plastic surgeon had heard of Brown’s plight and offered to remove the glue pro bono. And he did so, just two days later, with a solution he’d developed and tested on himself.
It was, in the end, a heartwarming story. Brown shouldn’t have caused any lasting damage. She had started a GoFundMe anticipating she’d need to buy wigs after the damage the glue would cause to her hair follicles, and she’s since committed to donating much of that money to Obeng’s charity, which provides reconstructive surgery pro bono throughout Africa.
But we still had some questions. Obeng spoke with GQ about his whirlwind week of research and treatment.
GQ: When did you hear about the situation and how did you get in touch?
Dr. Michael Obeng: Last Monday, I was at the clinic seeing patients. My patient coordinator Natasha came to me and said, “Dr. Obeng, can you remove Gorilla Glue out of somebody’s hair?”
I said, “Yes, I can, of course. But let’s get back to work.” I guess I was the only person in America who didn’t know the story.
And she said, “I’m really serious. There’s a girl whose hair is stuck together and stuck to her scalp.” Natasha happened to have a personal connection, and I like to take challenges. So once I told Natasha I could do it, she called her friend, and next thing I know she’s reporting back that the girl is coming Wednesday.
What happened then?
Once it was confirmed, I decided to find out what was in Gorilla Glue. I didn’t even know what it was used for, so I bought some glue just to see the components of it—to find the right solution to break down the compounds.
The next day I made a phone call to Gorilla Glue to see if they already had something to dissolve it. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. They told me somebody from R&D would get back to me. They knew the story, of course. But by the time they got back to me, I had figured it out—I spoke with one of my colleagues from undergrad, in the chemistry department, to find out if they had any ideas, and we were able to come up with a solution to safely untangle the hair and lift it off the scalp without causing injury.
Were you surprised by how fast you solved it?
I’m not your typical plastic surgeon. I like to think outside the box, and I like to take on challenges, things that nobody wants to do. That’s what excites me. When Tessica’s case came to me, I knew I had to think outside the box. This is not in your typical training that you get as a plastic surgeon. With the knowledge that I have from my chemistry days, and the things I’ve seen throughout the world traveling and talking to people, we were able to think of something we could do to alleviate Tessica’s problem.
But I don’t want to take too much credit. Whenever you have a problem, if you can think through the problem and dissect the problem, then it becomes solvable. I was a little cautious. You can take glue out. But the question is, how do you effectively and safely dissolve glue on somebody’s scalp, which is an extension of skin, and not burn it? That was the biggest challenge.