By Rita J. Egan

Attending a prom is an important milestone for most teenagers, but for children who are dealing with an illness, they may not always get the chance to experience the rite of passage.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital ensured their teenaged inpatients as well as outpatients had the opportunity to enjoy the same special moments their peers do when they held their second annual Children’s Hospital Prom June 10. Many of the teenagers were unable to attend this year’s school prom or a previous year’s, or due to life-limiting illnesses may never have the opportunity.

Before the event, many prom-goers had their hair and nails done by volunteers from the New York Institute of Beauty. Photo from Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

Maureen Cole, associate director of nursing at the hospital, said 50 patients between ages 12 and 21 along with their guests attended this year’s prom.

For the event, a youth advisory council was created so the patients could be involved in the planning. She said they chose a Hawaiian luau themed prom that featured tiki torches, grass huts, colorful flowers, Polynesian-influenced cuisine and warm breezes on the hospital’s Level 5 patio. The council also met with chefs and picked the food to be served.

The evening began at 4 p.m. with complimentary hair styling, makeup and nail services all provided inside the hospital by the New York Institute of Beauty. Cole said all the children looked incredible, and there was a waiting area, suggested by the council, for those who chose not to get their hair and nails done to play video games and wait for their guests who were getting pampered.

With physicians, nurses and employees from Child Life Services who volunteered their time in attendance, the teenagers enjoyed a night filled with red carpet snapshots, dancing and games such as limbo.

Michael Reed, a 16-year-old outpatient of the hospital who just completed 10th grade at MacArthur High School in Levittown, was part of the youth council. He said it felt great to see the results of the work of the half dozen members.

“It was, the way that I looked at it, not a masterpiece, but it was what me and a few other people invented, what we helped out with, what we created,” he said.

Reed, who attended last year’s prom, felt getting the opinions of the teens by forming a council was a great idea.

“It looked like everyone had a really fun time,” he said.

Cole said the children miss many special events at school, and despite programs available through Child Life Services, the hospital experience is not a fun one for them.

“It’s our way of giving back,” she said. “And, having a big prom party for them, so they feel that a hospital is not just a bad place to come to because you come here usually when you are sick.”

Two girls dance at the luau-themed prom organized especially for teen patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at the hospital, said it’s important for children to spend time with their peers who are going through the same situation they are.

“This gives kids an opportunity to know that they are not alone in the world, that other kids are there struggling just like they are, trying to keep up with school and doing all the things that are hard to do when you are managing a chronic illness and are a teenager,” Alpers said.

The director attended the prom and said it was delightful.

“A lot of kids were anxious and eager to get to the party,” she said. “They had their hair and nails done, and they felt really special. A lot of the boys were wearing flowered shirts with their suits.”

Alpers said there was a sick child in the hospital who they thought may not be able to attend, but she put on her dress and had her hair and nails done. Later in the day, she received the go-ahead from doctors to attend.

“It was so lovely to see her come down [from the ward],” Alpers said. “She wanted to be there so badly.”

Cole said she hopes the hospital will continue to be able to organize the prom every year.

“I really think it’s important for them to feel special because they really are special to us, all the kids,” she said.