Girl, 13, had ‘hairball’ the size of a rugby ball in her stomach

A schoolgirl had a hairball the size of a rugby ball in her stomach after eating her own hair for years.

Melissa Williams, 13, of Walton, had a huge hairball 8-10cm in diameter removed from her stomach on October 1, 2021.

Mom Jackie Williams, 40, and dad, Gary Jones, 47, didn’t realize something was up until Melissa started complaining of severe stomach pains.

READ MORE: Mom Knew Something Was Wrong When Baby Won’t Stop ‘Crying All The Time’

Jackie explained that she took her daughter to and from the GP over the course of a year, but “persisted” when they told her that Melissa’s problems were due to anxiety.



Melissa Williams, 13, with her parents Jackie Williams and Gary Jones. Photo by Colin Lane

She told The ECHO: “She was bullied very much at school for three years and when she got anxious she would pull out her own hair and eat it.

“The first things we noticed was that she felt sick and was sick, had a poor appetite and had lost about a pound. I thought she had an eating disorder because she wasn’t eating.

“She was often sent home from school and asked not to go in because she felt sick, but since it was the same day every week, I thought it was a class she didn’t like.



X-rays of Melissa's stomach (left) and chest (right) at Alder Hey Children's Hospital
X-rays of Melissa’s stomach (left) and chest (right) at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

“We’ve been to and from the doctors about half a dozen times over the year, but we persisted.”

The pain got significantly worse over a two-week period and Jackie decided to take Melissa to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

Once at the hospital, the doctors could feel that Melissa’s stomach was tender. They then found a huge mass, but did not know what it was.

Jackie said: “They said they’d never seen this before, they did an X-ray and they saw a big mass in her stomach but didn’t know what it was.

“It was actually my neighbor who said she’d read something about people eating their hair years ago, and it was.”

Melissa went to emergency surgery in Alder Hey, where doctors had to cut the hairball into four sections before removing each with two hands, due to their weight.



Melissa at Alder Hey Children's Hospital after log surgery to remove a melon-sized hairball
Melissa at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital after log surgery to remove a melon-sized hairball

Jackie continued: “The doctors said if we hadn’t admitted Mel when we did, she might not have made it through the surgery.

“She was relieved when the pain was gone and she was so brave.”

After the surgery, Melissa was in the hospital for two weeks due to problems with her blood and excess fluid in her stomach.

Helplines and Support Groups

The following are helplines and support networks people can talk to, usually listed on the NHS Choices website

  • Samaritans (116 123) has a 24 hour service available every day of the year. If you’d rather write down how you feel, or if you’re concerned about being tapped on the phone, email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.
  • CALM Campaign Against Living Miserably (0800 58 58 58) is a leading movement against suicide. It operates a UK helpline and web chat from 5pm to midnight 365 days a year for anyone who has run into a wall for any reason, wanting to talk or need information and support.
  • PANDAS (0808 1961 776) operates a toll-free helpline and provides support to people who may be suffering from perinatal mental illness, including prenatal (prenatal) and postpartum depression, plus support from their family or network.
  • Childline (0800 1111) has a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calling is free and the number will not appear on your phone bill.
  • PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organization that supports teenagers and young adults who feel suicidal.
  • Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity that provides advice and support to help anyone with a mental health problem. They campaign to improve service delivery, raise awareness and promote understanding.
  • Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or have suicidal thoughts.
  • Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults dealing with bullying.
  • Amparo provides emotional and practical support to anyone who has experienced suicide. This includes dealing with police and coroners; help with media questions; preparing and attending a judicial inquiry and helping to access other appropriate local support services. Call 0330 088 9255 or visit www.amparo.org.uk for more information.

  • Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
  • Youth Counseling Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services to children, young people and families in Liverpool. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: support@ypas.org.uk
  • Paul’s Place – offers free counseling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: paulsplace@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk
  • The Martin Gallier Project – provides personal support to individuals considering suicide and their families. Opening hours 9.30-16.30, 7 days a week. Tel: 0151 644 0294 Email: triage@gallierhouse.co.uk

Melissa was then healthy enough to go home for four weeks before being hospitalized again with three different infections.

Melissa still pulls out her hair, but doesn’t eat it anymore. It is supported by the Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

Now her family wants to raise awareness about Rapunzel syndrome and make sure other parents know what signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Jackie said: “Parents need to watch out for any changes in their kids’ hair, and it’s not just the hair on their heads. It can be eyelashes and eyebrows.

“Eating changes, nausea, and abdominal pain are also all symptoms.

“I would also say that parents shouldn’t give up when they go to the doctor. If you know something is wrong with your child, keep going back, don’t give up and don’t take no for an answer.”

Rapunzel syndrome is an extremely rare intestinal disorder in humans due to ingesting hair. The syndrome is named after the long-haired girl Rapunzel in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

This syndrome occurs when the trichobezoar (hairball) extends beyond the small intestine, and sometimes even into the large intestine.

Features of the syndrome include a hairball in the stomach, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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