Lee Thomas' skin is changing him.The article was from the Chicago Tribune but the actual photo that I have of him exposing his neck that was affected by this disease is from the Rocky Mountain News.
His once brown, even complexion is now mottled with pale patches. "I'm a black man turning white on television, and people can see it," says Thomas, an anchor and entertainment reporter for the local Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliate. "If you've watched me over the years, you've seen my hands completely change from brown to white."
Thomas has vitiligo, a disorder in which pigment-making cells are destroyed. White patches appear on different parts of the body, tissues in the mouth and nose, and the retina.
"There is no cause. There is no cure, and it's very random," Thomas says. "I could turn all the way white or mostly white."
Relatively few people had heard the term "vitiligo" until Michael Jackson revealed in the early 1990s that the disorder was behind his skin turning brown to white.
It's not fatal, but experts say vitiligo robs people of self-confidence, evokes ridicule and unpleasant stares, and pushes some into unforced seclusion.
The 40-year-old Thomas says that's not where the disorder needs to be. He openly talks about vitiligo and how it has affected his life and career, and he has written a book about his journey titled, "Turning White: A Memoir of Change."
Along the way, Thomas says, he's met others with the disorder and has become a celebrity spokesman for the Columbus, Ohio-based National Vitiligo Foundation.
Vitiligo attacks the soul and psyche, foundation Executive Director Robert Haas says.
"When was the last time you saw someone with vitiligo handling your food? It is the public's image that it is some leprosy-type of disease," he says.
That was Thomas' fear.
He uses a combination of creams and makeup to cover the growing patches of skin. Only family members and those closest to him knew the secret he had kept since age 25.
Thomas first noticed a change after getting a haircut while working in Louisville. He looked in a mirror and thought the barber had nicked him. A closer look revealed a pale spot, about the size of a quarter.
"I got two more on the other side of my scalp, on my hand and one in the corner of my mouth," he recalls. "That's when I went to the doctor and got diagnosed."
But over time, the vitiligo was becoming more obvious.
"I thought my career was over," says the Emmy Award winner, who routinely travels to Hollywood for one-on-one interviews with celebrities including Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Halle Berry.
Thomas finally agreed to tell his story on television in November 2005.
After the first segment on Thomas' vitiligo aired, he took a leave of absence and missed the initial response from viewers.
"I received 40 to 50 e-mails a day the entire time he was gone," said Dana Hahn, WJBK's vice president of news. "So many people found support and encouragement in his story. I've never seen the kind of response to any story in my 12 years at Fox 2."
At the time, Thomas was already writing his book.
"As all those things happened, the tone of the book changed," he says. "I was writing for all those people who were afraid to come outside."
When he's out socially now, Thomas forgoes the makeup he wears on camera.
14 hours ago