Vitiligo: Georgia doctor shares what it's like to watch your skin change colors

When Glenda Williams recently accompanied her daughter to an appointment with Dr. Timothy Cowthorn, an OB-GYN and Chief of Staff at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital, she noticed it.

"I guess he probably felt I was looking at him a little strange,"

It was his skin.

"The first impression was like, "Wow, he has vitiligo,'" Williams says.

That's when she brought it up.

"And as they were leaving, she stopped me," Dr. Cowthorn remembers. "And she  said, 'You don't wear makeup?'  And it threw me, threw me back, you know."

"He wasn't offended, which was good," Williams smiles.

Because Dr. Cowthorn does have vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes the skin to lose its pigmentation. It affects about 2% of all Americans. Typically early in life, before a person's 20th birthday, white patches may begin to appear on the face, arms, hands and feet. 

"It's your immune system attacking your skin," Cowthorn says.  "I work in a stressful job, didn't think anything of it.  But I love what I do, so I said, 'Okay, I'm just gonna turn."

Cowthorn, who is 45, developed a white spot on his forehead a couple of years ago.

"And then I started self-examing myself, and I thought, "Wow, this is really happening," he says.
A dermatologist diagnosed him, and he gradually became more comfortable with the changes in his skin color.

"It's been fine," Cowthorne says.  "Only a few patients ask me.  They say, 'Have you been burned. Are you okay?' And I say, 'I'm alright.'  If anything, my mother was more concerned than I was."

Glenda Williams does not have vitiligo, but she volunteers with the group Vitiligo Man of Action, which works to educate people about vitiligo. She asked Dr. Cowthorn what he was doing to help others with vitiligo.

"His reply was, 'I don't know what I can do to help someone else,' Williams says. " And my reply was, 'You can help someone.  You can help people be the true you.'"

Now, Dr. Cowthorn plans to volunteer and share his story.

He's excited about the chance to make a difference.  

"Just taking this to another level," he says. "I thought it was amazing."