Pullman barber fights rare, lifelong disease

Previously worked at Cave Cutz, cutting WSU football players’ hair; symptoms started appearing six months ago

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COURTESY OF HOLLY O'BRIEN

Jon O’Brien was diagnosed with Buerger’s disease. It attacks the blood vessels, causing vein damage and death of body tissue. 

ANNA MICHALSON, Evergreen reporter

When Pullman barber Jon O’Brien started to notice a tingling in his fingertips, he had no idea what it was going to amount to. 

Jon’s sister, Holly O’Brien, said Jon moved to Pullman to pursue his passion of barbering almost seven years ago.

Jon worked at Cave Cutz, where he cuts the majority of WSU football players’ hair. He said his symptoms started to appear about six months ago.

 “It was just kind of like slight pins and needles, and then it went from pins and needles to a cold burn,” Jon said. 

After experiencing those sensations, Jon said he took his first of many visits to Pullman Regional Hospital and got diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, which causes blood vessels to narrow at the tips of fingers and toes. 

After further investigation and testing, he said doctors determined it was not Raynaud’s, but Buerger’s disease. Buerger’s disease attacks blood vessels, causing vein damage and death of body tissue. 

“My fingers don’t have any veins past the middle knuckle,” Jon said. 

This caused him to completely stop barbering. He said he is now searching for solutions to his lifelong disease. 

Jon has been speaking with surgeons about undergoing Botox treatments, which could help restore blood flow to the affected areas. However, he said it is an experimental treatment that costs $5,500 per procedure. 

“I mean, if I had the money, I would already be getting the treatment,” he said. 

Holly said she heard about Jon’s condition and started a GoFundMe in an effort to raise money for his treatments and living expenses while he is unemployed.

“I was hoping to cover those [living expenses] for several months and then he’s found these functional prosthetics that if he ends up having more than just a few fingertips amputated, the prosthetics would eventually allow him to return to barbering,” she said.

As of now, Holly said Jon is looking at having three fingertips amputated, and the problem is only growing. 

“In my left hand, it’s every finger … in my right hand, it’s three fingers, and I can feel it in my right foot and left knee,” Jon said. 

Jon said his fingertips are dark blue, and simple household tasks are proving to be extremely painful and difficult. 

What frustrates Jon the most is the lack of information there is on Buerger’s disease.

“Every single website I’ve gone to tells you the same thing, which is nothing,” Jon said.

Those interested in donating can visit Jon’s GoFundMe page, as he is just waiting for answers and treatment now.