Hospital Proms Give Teens Their Night to Party

It was an evening of stylish suits and dazzling dresses instead of hospital gowns, corsages instead of plastic wristbands. On April 21, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals gave teens who have been hospitalized the chance to enjoy the ultimate high school rite of passage: prom.

At the event, in its seventh year in San Francisco and first year in Oakland, players from the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders whisked attendees down the red carpet. About 150 patients and 140 of their enthusiastic friends twirled to beats spun by a DJ, snapped selfies, had their faces painted, and won raffle prizes.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces is the most breathtaking thing you can experience.” – Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

Briana Nathaniel, a high school freshman, came decked out in a sparkly white dress and royal blue heels, with blue nails – and streaks in her hair – to match. Diagnosed with sickle cell anemia before she was born, Briana has spent much of her childhood in and out of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. The disease, which afflicts approximately 100,000 people in the U.S., can cause inflammation and tremendous pain, chronic anemia, serious infections, and damage to organs.

“I've been in pain all my life. That’s just how my life is,” Briana says. “But the more you think about the pain, it gets worse. At the hospital, they do these kinds of things to get our minds off of it. I think it’s brilliant.”

In the weeks leading up to the prom, the upbeat 15-year-old deliberated over dresses and looked forward to dancing and enjoying the night as a typical teenager.

The event didn’t disappoint. “It was amazing,” says Briana, whose ambition is to become a “model-fashion designer-singer-songwriter-choreographer.” “We danced, we ate, we took pictures. It was a blessing.”

And the teens’ joy was infectious.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces is the most breathtaking thing you can experience,” Raiders’ defensive end Khalil Mack told KTVU News. The Oakland event was held at the team’s headquarters, and several players were glued to the dance floor all night.

That was a special thrill for Briana. “My favorite memory was dancing with the football players, especially one that had a lot of swag,” she says. “They were all good though.”

Witnessing these moments brought immense satisfaction to Katie Craft, Child Life Specialist at UCSF Benioff Oakland, who typically sees the teens in more challenging circumstances. While Oakland patients have been invited to the San Francisco prom in the past, this year the Child Life team helped give them their very own dance for the first time.

“We know how hard these teens fight, how difficult their treatments are, and how different their lives can be from their peers,” Katie says. “It was so great to create a space for joy.”

A huge thank you to the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, and the many generous supporters – both individuals and event vendors – that made the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals proms possible.