2 Bay Area hospitals host special proms for young patients

Two hospitals on both sides of the Bay held a special prom for their teen patients on Friday night.  Benioff UCSF Children's Hospital Oakland and San Francisco hosted the annual event.

Dozens of patients attended the prom held in Oakland.  They ranged in age from 15 to 20. 20-year-old Janiah Smith said this was a dream come true. 

She wasn't able to go to her high school senior prom. Smith said it was hard seeing her peers attend prom and that she waited for this opportunity.

"I didn't get to attend because I was in the hospital. I was really upset," said Smith.  

Prom 2024 was a night to make  milestone memories. Smith suffers from sickle cell anemia. She has been in and out of the hospital during the past year coping with the disease that gives her chronic pain.

"It's honestly a wonderful feeling. I just love getting dressed, getting all dolled up. It's a good distraction if you're in pain. When you look better, you also feel better," said Smith.  

The event was more than a prom.
Professional stylists volunteered their talents to perform makeup magic: from patient to princess.  
They get out of their hospital beds and into a pop-up salon.  

"It's a lot less stressful down here, just a bunch of people who aren't doctors. I'm going to be able to hang out with people who are here," said patient Caitlin Larsen.

Patients said the pain and fear that comes with coping with their conditions are tempered by the joy of preparing for and attending a prom with others who share a similar experience. 
"It means a lot to me right now.  It's made me feel better, and I've been feeling bad  all week," said Larsen.  

The princess project donated dresses and the patients get to keep them. 16 -year-old Kendra Jackson said her illness has caused her to miss going to school and that  it's difficult to make friends,"Have fun and I guess live like a normal person."  

The prom, and all that comes with it, is free to inpatients and outpatients. Each was allowed to invite one guest who is also a teenager. This prom was a chance for  a rite of passage they missed due to their medical conditions. 

"Even when you have an illness, you can do things that make you feel good. Being able to do things that are fun helps your health and well-being tremendously," said Rechelle Porter, Director of Child Life Program with Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.  

Janiah Smith has words of encouragement for other patients,"Just stay strong. Just know that you got it, and it's going to be tough, but you'll get through it."  

The patients said this is a night they'll cherish for a long time. Organizers said this prom was made possible with the help of donations and the work of  volunteers.  

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU.