Stony Brook Children’s Hospital has been throwing a party for current and former patients alike each spring for the past four years.
Basically, the teens get their very own prom — to help make new friends and provide a reprieve from medical care.
Last year, the theme was New York, New York.
On Saturday, June 8, the kids arrived at Stony Brook University’s Center for Leadership and Service to be treated to an evening of music, dancing and food inspired by a “Night in Paris.”
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The idea came from the hospital wanting to provide an opportunity for teenagers who were too sick to attend their own proms or end-of-school-year parties.
It quickly grew to include all current and former patients who had struggled with chronic health conditions at the center, giving them an evening to socialize and have fun outside of their usual experiences of hospitalization.
“It’s a wonderful time of year where patients can live their prom experience and have a fun night with friends and create memories they will never forget,” said Maureen Cole, an associate director of nursing at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, and Women’s Services.
Cole’s experience with similar proms at other hospitals inspired her to bring the event to Stony Brook.
This year, 44 current and former patients attended the prom, along with family members, doctors, staff and volunteers.
Among them was Delaney Unger, 13, a student at Selden Middle School. She’s a cancer survivor who had an uncommon and aggressive bone cancer in her left leg.
In 2017, she was at the hospital for a rare rotationplasty surgery performed by orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Fazel Khan.
Unger has been a dancer since she was 3. She returned this year for the prom to show off her moves.
“I’m excited because it’s my first time going to the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital prom,” she said.
Unger helped design and decorate the prom through the Youth Advisory Council, a youth leadership organization.
The prom brings kids together to decrease the sense of isolation they might feel during medical care.
“Kids don’t have to miss out on dances,” Unger said. “They can have the same fun and experiences. Be with friends and make new friends.”
During the party, attendees danced, played games, took pics in a photo booth and enjoyed food, including a French pastry called Palmier (aka Elephant Ears), which Unger said she got to sample at international day at her school.
Professional hairstylists, makeup artists, and nail technicians volunteered to provide full salon treatment of pampering to the attendees before the party.
Joan Alpers, the director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said The New York Institute of Beauty in Islandia provides their services to help get the kids all dolled up for the big night.
“New York Institute of Beauty have been with us for all four proms and we are most grateful,” said Alpers. “We could not do this without them.”
Other donors who provide funds to support the kids through Child Life Services contribute to the cost of the prom. Local businesses also provide discounted rates to help put on the show.
Colin Birch, 19, from Centereach, attended every single Stony Brook Children’s Hospital proms so far.
“I look forward to the reunion at the hospital,” he said. “And, I like that the hospital gives back to the patients.”
The hospital extended the age of teens who can attend the prom, which Birch was glad about so he could attend again this year.
“It’s a great night to have some fun,” he said.
Birch had a thyroid infection in 2015 that required surgery. He stayed in the hospital for about a week.
The prom is designed to be therapeutic and to help raise spirits amid the illness. The teens don’t have to worry about having tests, procedures, and treatments.
But, the prom is not just good for the children; the staff enjoys it too.
“This special event is rewarding not only for the kids, but for the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital clinical staff and Child Life team to see the joy on their faces and know they are having a good time,” Cole said.
Stony Brook Children’s Hospital courtesy photos