Stony Brook Children’s Hospital hosted a special pediatric prom for teens on June 9 to give young patients a chance to forget about their health struggles and just have fun together.
The evening marked the third annual pediatric prom for Stony Brook Children’s. It was a beautiful spring night, perfect for the outdoor event, held at Stony Brook University Hospital.
Sixteen-year-old Erin was there to hang out with her friends. She said kids undergoing treatment for chronic health issues often miss out on school activities. The Stony Brook Children’s prom gives them a way to participate comfortably.
“I don’t feel judged here. I feel like I fit in,” Erin said.
Erin is a member of the Stony Brook Children’s Youth Advisory Council, a group of teenage patients who give their input on issues and activities related to hospitalized teens at our hospital. The Council members chose the prom’s “New York, New York” theme, said Erin, and taste-tested the menu before giving it a thumbs-up.
Timothy,18, another Council member who served on the prom planning committee, said, “I wanted to give back to the hospital that helped me so much, and also help other kids.”
Director of Child Life Services Joan Alpers said the prom helps normalize life for kids with chronic diseases. Socializing with other teenagers who are ill helps them feel less isolated than they might feel in their schools and communities, she said.
“Having the opportunity to do something like this, here in the hospital setting, gives them a whole new perspective on themselves, their illness and their relationship to the hospital,” Alpers said.
There are always hospital staff on hand at the dance, ready to help kids who need assistance. Some children may have developmental disabilities or need wheelchairs, she said. Some may be coming to the prom from the hospital’s in-patient pediatric units if they feel well enough to attend.
“We treat each child individually, and we meet everyone where they are,” Alpers said.
Maureen Cole, RN, Director of Nursing for Stony Brook Children’s, said that if young people have been through chemotherapy or other medical treatments, they themselves “know when they’re ready to come to events like this. The kids determine that.”
Before the festivities got underway, professional stylists from the New York Institute of Beauty donated their time to do hair and makeup for the teens, and nursing students gave them manicures. For Nzinga, almost 16 years old, the makeover was a welcome respite.
“Everybody wants to feel beautiful,” she said. “This means a lot.”
And then it was prom time. Welcomed by a DJ who called out, “Right this way, party people!”, the promgoers made their grand entrance into a white tent set up outside on a hospital terrace. There they lounged on comfy couches, taking selfies and sipping prepared-to-order lemonades.
After a stop at the hot buffet, the kids hit the dance floor, where they danced the night away under the watchful eyes of a cardboard Statue of Liberty.
Nzinga said it’s important for kids with illnesses to realize that they can relax and have fun, even if they can’t make it to their school prom.
“We’re all human, and we still all want the same things,” she said. “It’s important to pursue those things we desire.”