Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

 

‘An Evening in Wonderland’ for hospital schoolchildren

Prom lets teens and youngsters forget they’re patients

Packard Children’s Hospital hosted “An Evening in Wonderland” prom for students at the hospital school. Patients Chandler Rosemont (left) and Sierra Bybee (right) hit the dance floor while Teresa Dedore (second from right) and friends look on.

   

The girls wore high heels and cocktail dresses. The boys wore dress shirts that came untucked as the night wore on. When Sean Kingston and Justin Bieber’s “Eenie Meenie” began to play over the sound system, a girl put her hand over her mouth, squealed and started dancing with friends.

This was prom night at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. To the casual observer, it could have been prom night in Anytown, USA, except that many of the attendees accessorized their outfits with wheelchairs, intravenous drips, walkers and surgical masks to protect their immune-compromised bodies from infection.

The annual semiformal dance is held for current and former students of the hospital school, which enrolls patients whose medical care at Packard Children’s may last months or even years. The hospital school, which serves grades K–12 and is part of the Palo Alto Unified School District, has held a prom since 2005.

“A lot of students who are going to school at the hospital don’t get a chance to attend the events that a regular school might have, so getting to go to a prom is something really special for them,” said Kathy Ho, the prom coordinator and a teacher at the school. “The prom is really a chance for them to be normal kids—to forget where they are. Having big dances like this is a big part of growing up.”

The May 14 prom kicked off at 6 p.m. As the partygoers streamed in—the younger ones trailing parents, the older ones checking their parents at the door—they wandered down a hallway decorated with dangling red hearts and garlands of playing cards. A short corridor festooned with tissue-paper flowers opened onto the Packard Children’s cafeteria, which was decked out for the prom’s theme, “An Evening in Wonderland,” a nod to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

Teacups and saucers lined tables. Signs by the beverages and food read “Drink Me” and “Eat Me.” Partiers could play blackjack, roulette, poker and craps for prizes, as well as carnival-style games like Pin the Grin on the Cheshire Cat and Find the Dormouse.

Maia Evrigenis, 15, of Sacramento sat at a patio table with her guest, Madeline Arnett, 14, munching on hors d’oeuvres. Evrigenis attended the hospital school for about six months in 2007–08, when she was battling leukemia. “It’s really cool to come back and see the hospital and all the teachers again,” she said. “A lot of times there would be days when I wasn’t feeling that good and the teachers would make me feel really comfortable, and we’d find things to laugh about.”

Many younger patients also attended the prom, getting a jump on a social event generally reserved for teen-agers. Mateo Kohler, 7, of San Jose went to the event with his father, Tim Kohler. “Usually when he comes to the hospital, it’s because he’s going to get a blood test or there’s a problem,” Kohler said. “The prom is something fun. It’s a happy reason to be here.”

Chandler Rosemont, 17, a current student at the school, wore an eggshell-white cocktail dress and had glitter around her eyes. “I’m a dancer. I can’t contain myself when I hear music,” she said. “I do modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, contemporary—everything but ballroom and Irish.”

In December, she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome in her right hand and wrist. The little-understood condition causes an intense burning or aching sensation, and any stimulation can be nearly intolerable, she said. “If I felt the wind, I’d start screaming in pain,” she said.

Rosemont said she has made a lot of good friends at Packard Children’s, including Sierra Bybee, 17, who was also at the prom. “Sierra and I met at the hospital, and we were, like, ‘We need to be roommates.’ The next day the nurses planned for us to be roommates together, and so ever since we’ve been best friends,” she said.

She turned toward the dance floor, holding her right hand slightly away from her body, and swayed to the music.

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