Kaiser patients dance the night away at Pediatric Prom in Oakland

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Rainbow makeup palettes cluttered the tables, hairspray filled the air and girls in glittery dresses twirled all around. Off to the side, Leandra Javellana, 16, sat patiently as her makeup artist carefully filled in her eyebrows, gave her a bright red lip and brushed shimmering gold eye shadow across her lids. Javellana giggled as the makeup artist bronzed her cheeks. She was ready for prom.

Saturday’s dance might be the only prom the high school junior has the opportunity to attend. Like most attendees at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center’s Pediatric Prom, Javellana is a patient. Diagnosed with Leukemia last December, she has been out of school for six months and takes her classes online. She said she is starting to feel more energetic again, and that her treatment is going “great.” She hopes to return for the beginning of her senior year, but whether she’ll be well enough to make it to her own prom is still an uncertainty.

In the meantime, Javellana said, she was there that night to “party and dance.” She looked forward to seeing everyone dressed up and meeting new friends. “We all can relate to each other and create great friendships,” she said once her makeup was finished and she was ready to head into the dance.

Her mother Jewel Jardeleza, thought the idea of Pediatric Prom was exciting. “In case she doesn’t get to go to prom at her own school, she has this,” she said.

This was Kaiser Permanente third annual Pediatric Prom, an event dedicated to giving teenage patients with chronic conditions an evening of normalcy. The event was themed “Evening in Hollywood,” and used sparkling centerpieces, a paparazzi-style selfie station, and silent films playing in the background to evoke visions of classic film stars and red carpet sophistication.

Event organizer Jessica Claspill-Garcia, a child life specialist at Kaiser, said one of their goals is to make a normal life for patients despite difficult circumstances. Many feel isolated and shy while in the hospital, but because they’re teenagers, she believes, having a social life is paramount. “That’s the most important thing to them,” she said. “It really does bring up their self-esteem.”

Physician-in-Chief Dr. Judith Park, a volunteer for the evening, said that prom is an important milestone in a teenager’s life, and it’s sad if someone has to miss it due to illness. Being able to take a break and just be a kid, she said is “a time to celebrate. I think it’s amazing.”

Although hosted by Kaiser Permanente, according to Claspill-Garcia, organizing the dance was a community effort. Three years ago, Oakland restaurant Homeroom approached Kaiser about doing an event for pediatric patients as a way to help out the Oakland community and support women working in the pediatric field.

The first year, the prom was held in a small event space at Homeroom with only about 30 attendees, and “nobody got on the dancefloor,” said Claspill-Garcia. This year, the event spanned two floors of the hospital and organizers anticipated more than 200 teens and almost as many volunteers.

In order to provide prom guests with free dresses, shoes, menswear and accessories, Kaiser employees asked the community for donations through Facebook and word of mouth. Some of the pieces were brand new, others were used, but all were beautiful. “We were kind of snobby,” said Claspill-Garcia. “We would only take the best.” At the end of the night, teens got to take home their finery.

 “There’s probably 300 to 400 dresses,” she said. “Everybody chipped in.” Food and drinks were provided in large part by the hospital cafeteria manager, Homeroom and other local businesses. The hairstylists and makeup artists provided their services pro bono.

Makeup artist Patricia Casteneda said she enjoyed doing a similar even in Napa earlier this year, so she jumped at the chance to help out at Kaiser and felt “blessed to be a part of it.”

Jonathan Sterling, 17, is known as the “patient ambassador” in the pediatric ward for his incredible friendliness toward new ward arrivals. For the evening, he sported a brand-new black suit that he was eager to show off.

Sitting in a quiet room away from the chaos, Sterling said he was glad to be there and described the event as “cool.” He’s had sickle cell anemia since birth, and said he hasn’t been able to do all of the things he would like to, such as “play on a basketball team, or go to school as much as other kids, or go outside when it’s cold.”

“I had to miss my first prom,” said Sterling “so it’s cool to actually know what it’s like to be at prom.”

And although it’s not quite the same as attending the dance at Cal Prep High School, where Sterling is a junior, he said, “Some kids don’t get to go to their prom, so it’s cool if they get to go to this one.”

Once all the prom guests were primped to perfection and finished taking selfies, they made their way across the hall to the ballroom. Inside, they found a photo booth with props including movie-star glasses and a clapperboard, a DJ ready to take requests, a popcorn table and star projections flitting around the room. One by one, they ventured onto the dance floor. Once they got started bouncing to “Wobble Baby” by VIC, the dancing didn’t stop.

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