Life was busy, but rewarding, for Gregg Giannillo. In addition to handling the many responsibilities that come with owning a chic salon in New York City’s Upper East Side, Giannillo started each weekday on the set of ABC’s Good Morning America, where he did the hair for co-host Lara Spencer.
When a misstep during his gym workout tossed him into a hard fall on his hands, Giannillo broke a finger on each hand and, with both hands in casts, couldn’t do hair for six weeks. His team took over under his watchful eye.
“I thought my clients would be nervous, but they were great as long as I was there,” Giannillo says. “I stood right next to the stylists and told them what to do step by step. Hearing all of the detailed instructions, my clients said, ‘I can’t believe all of that goes into my hair cut!’”
What Giannillo didn’t realize was that this was just the beginning. About a year later, one hip and his lower back began bothering him, which he attributed to lower back issues. At first, a doctor confirmed that diagnosis, but treatment wasn’t helping.
“Getting in and out of cars, climbing stairs—these normal movements caused me so much pain,” Giannillo says. “It became difficult to work; just pumping the chair up and down was a real struggle. I had to train myself to adapt. Clients would see me limping and suggest sitting on a stool to cut hair, but that made it worse.” For a while, doctors told Giannillo he would have to live with the pain.
Finally an MRI revealed a degenerative condition, avascular necrosis, that strikes about 20,000 people a year between the ages of 30 and 60. Giannillo was in his early 40s.
“The bone begins to die and dis-integrates, and you’re in agony from the inflammation that develops,” he explains. “They don’t know how it happened to me.”
But they did know how to fix it. Giannillo had his first hip replacement in October 2016. When the pain recurred nearly a year later, this time both Giannillo and the doctors recognized that it was time to replace the second hip, which they did.
“I was out six weeks for my hands but only two weeks for each hip!” Giannillo reports. “It’s amazing that four days after hip surgery I was walking back and forth to the salon with a cane. I was getting more sleep because I didn’t have to rush to take early appointments, but I spent the two weeks shaping up our inventory and doing other administrative tasks. I got a lot done.”
Hope for the best; prepare for the worst Giannillo urges salon professionals not to take their health for granted.
Giannillo was fortunate that his union job on Good Morning America provided medical insurance, but he points out that even when your medical bills are covered your loss of work often is not.
“Be more careful than you think you have to be, and prepare for the unexpected,” he says. “Just getting
in a cab—minutes later you can find yourself hurt in an accident. I never used to think about it, but now I think about it all the time. I learned that options like AFLAC can help manage income loss. And if there were no such thing as hip surgery, I’d be in a wheelchair and my career would be over. So go through the thought process. Nothing lasts forever.”
But things can improve. Now six months after the second hip replacement, Giannillo is feeling pretty spry again. He has to rebuild the strength in his legs, and there’s still the bursitis in his shoulder plus hearing loss that a doctor traced specifically to 20 years of using the same blow dryer.
“I’ve given up a lot to be a hairdresser!” says Giannillo, who recently launched his own seven-product styling line, Boudoir Hair by Giannillo Salon. “Some people think that what we do is fluff—not a real living—or that it’s all glamorous. The reality is that it’s a hard-on-your-body job, a difficult way of life in terms of long hours and working weekends. But it’s glamorous, too, or we wouldn’t be doing it! I love the immediate gratification of seeing a complete transformation in 30 minutes because of what I do. I wouldn’t trade that for any other type of work.”