Health & Medicine

Fed up with lice, Sacramento-area dads open their own clinic

Eric Heffel, a partner in the recently opened Lice Clinics of America Sacramento, uses a dehydration device to kill lice as he treats Marlie Wright of Lincoln earlier this month.
Eric Heffel, a partner in the recently opened Lice Clinics of America Sacramento, uses a dehydration device to kill lice as he treats Marlie Wright of Lincoln earlier this month. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Every parent’s nightmare came true for Larry Shield, the Lice Dad of El Dorado Hills, and it happened multiple times.

The 54-year-old man spent years trying to rid lice from four of his five children and then, when he became known for his prowess with the pests, did it for the children of 30 other families who came to him for help.

Out of that frustration arose opportunity: Shield’s friend Eric Heffel, 55, a registered nurse and entrepreneur, encouraged him to re-craft his free service into a business. The pair became business partners and opened Lice Clinics of America Sacramento last month, a first of its kind in the greater Sacramento region.

“People get very, very freaked out (about lice),” Heffel said. “It’s a very emotionally satisfying feeling doing something people are extremely happy about.”

The Folsom Boulevard clinic has brought in hundreds of Sacramento-area residents so far, mostly through Google ads, Heffel said.

“We needed to be where people were when they got lice,” he said. “Google is where people go. That’s where we needed to be to capture their attention.”

A louse is a parasitic six-legged insect that feeds on blood drawn from the scalp. They live only on humans and can cause an itchy infestation by laying their eggs, known as nits, on hairs close to the scalp.

Lice are most commonly spread among preschool and elementary children at school and home and through other activities such as sports or slumber parties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 6 million to 12 million children contract lice each year in the United States.

The CDC recommends all household members be checked for lice. For treatment, over-the-counter or prescription medication can be used, and the clothes and bed linens of the infested person should be washed to avoid a re-infestation.

Shield said he and Heffel wanted to give back to the community while also pursuing a business model in a niche market. When his children first contracted lice, he searched on the Internet for advice, like most parents do, since lice clinics aren’t common, he added.

“I reckon I had been looking for a business to do that didn’t have direct competition from everyone,” he said.

He tried various cures at first on his own children – home remedies such as mayonnaise and olive oil, various chemicals – and even went so far as to put a swimmer’s cap full of olive oil over his kids’ hair. But the children were still scratching.

Determined, Shield meticulously combed out their olive oil-soaked hair for up to three days until the lice were finally gone. The process was long and grueling, and the kids were still fidgety.

With yet more research, Heffel and Shield found a method that guarantees a lice-free scalp after undergoing one full treatment, called AirAllé, Heffel said.

It’s an alternative method of treating head lice and nits with a device that’s FDA-cleared and can be used by certified operators. according to Lice Clinics of America. The lice and 99 percent of their eggs are killed in a single one-hour treatment through a combination of air flow, temperature and a thorough dehydration of the lice. The spout of the machine is moved around the hair until the whole head has experienced the dehydrating lice process.

While most lice clinics charge an hourly rate, Lice Clinics of America Sacramento charges by the treatment, Heffel said. Customers should expect to pay $35 to $175. (For more information, visit lcasacramento.com.)

The Sacramento clinic is looking to expand as the need for lice clinics increases, Heffel said.

“It’s everywhere and it’s all the time,” Heffel said. “Lice has been part of the human condition since we evolved from apes. There’s no way to eradicate it, it’s just managing it.”

Jennifer Crane: 916-321-1161, @Jenn_Crane

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