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Joshua Dobbs Bonds with Young Girl Raising Awareness About Alopecia


EAGAN, Minn. – Joshua Dobbs and 7-year-old Keira Johnson share a favorite planet.

They agree on Saturn, both having an affinity for the planet's unique rings.

"Great minds think alike," Dobbs said, offering Keira a fist bump.

But Dobbs and Keira have another similarity: they both have alopecia.

An autoimmune skin disease, alopecia areata causes hair loss on the scalp and face.

People with alopecia most often lose hair in circular, coin-sized patches on the scalp, but in more severe cases, they may lose all their hair. About 700,000 people in the U.S. currently have some form of alopecia areata.

Dobbs was first diagnosed with the condition as a third grader, though he didn't fully lose his hair until college; since then, he's used his NFL platform to not only raise awareness about alopecia but also to encourage others, particularly youngsters, who are living with the disease.

It's why Dobbs invited the Johnsons to the Vikings Saturday morning walk-through after hearing Keira and her family had hosted a Walk for Alopecia in September.

"We wanted to make sure that everyone knew why she was bald and to be able to advocate for her because we really feel that the more people know, the less chances there are for bullying," Keira's mother, Leslie Johnson, told KSTP in an interview earlier this fall. "She was like, 'Let's do a big party,' and I said, 'OK.' "

Leslie explained the family has followed Dobbs since his time with the Cardinals, when he teamed up with Ellie, a Cardinals cheerleader, in September to share their stories during Alopecia Awareness Month.


So when the Vikings traded to acquire Dobbs on Oct. 31, he already had four loyal fans waiting for him in Minnesota.

Keira and her twin sister Ava were gifted Vikings teddy bears and purple No. 15 jerseys upon arriving Saturday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Following the team's walk-through session, the family was warmly greeted by Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and multiple players. The girls also received autographs from Harrison Smith, K.J. Osborn, Harrison Phillips and Andrew DePaola, among others.

The most special meeting, though, was with Dobbs.

"Wow, I love that jersey," Dobbs told a timid but smiling Keira, who wore a rose-colored headwrap. "And I like your headwrap. You've gotta keep your head warm – that's the hardest part!"

"You might need two hats sometimes during a Minnesota winter," Leslie told him.

Keira and Ava surprised the quarterback with temporary tattoos and pictures they had colored. In honor of Dobbs' aerospace engineering degree and "Passtronaut" nickname, Keira drew a rocket ship and eight planets – which is when the two discovered a similar love for Saturn.

"I'm going to hang these in my locker," Dobbs told the sisters.

View photos of Keira's visit to the Vikings walk-through on Nov. 18, at TCO Performance Center.

Though Keira was quiet, the connection between her and Dobbs was evident.

"She wanted you to know you're not the only baldy in Minnesota anymore," Leslie told him with a smile, squeezing Keira affectionately.

"What would you say to a child with alopecia?" Leslie asked, her voice taking on some emotion. "How do I best support my child? It's hard."

Dobbs nodded understandably.

"It is hard," he acknowledged. "Just be as supportive as possible. At the end of the day, [it's important to remember] you're not abnormal having alopecia. I think that's the biggest thing. As a kid, you don't see other kids going through it, so you think you're an anomaly, but you're not.

"Everyone has something that they're going through," Dobbs added. "Ours is a little more visual. But I think more people are becoming aware of it, which is cool."