Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center employees and physicians volunteered their time to host a Homecoming Dance for their chronically ill teen patients. (Pictured left to right: Destiny Willis with her friends Aarionna Butte and Trinity Hayden)
For a few hours this fall, 13-year-old Destiny Willis wasn’t worrying about her illness. She was too busy doing something she had been missing — having a great time with her friends.
The eighth-grader from San Leandro has a chronic gastrointestinal condition that had her in and out of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center for a series of surgeries most of her seventh-grade year.
“I couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t play sports. And I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I was in a lot of pain,” she said. “I missed all the dances at my middle school last year.”
Many pediatric patients like Willis miss out on teenage traditions such as football games, dances, and much more. That’s why employees and physicians from the Oakland Medical Center’s Pediatrics Unit organized a Homecoming Dance for the hospital’s chronically ill teens this past fall. They teamed up with volunteer hair stylists, make-up artists, and the owners of a local restaurant
Eight teenagers aged 13 through 19 who were not currently in the hospital took part. All had been treated at Kaiser Permanente Oakland for illnesses such as leukemia, lupus, cancer, and sickle cell disease. They came with their friends to listen to music, share some food, and feel like regular teens.
It was billed as the “Homecoming Dance at Homeroom,” because the owners of the nearby Homeroom Mac and Cheese restaurant hosted the event. But the fun started back at the hospital.
More than thirty volunteer make-up and hair stylists, led by Nicholas Sanchez of Unity Salon in Pleasant Hill, took over a hospital conference room and helped the teens get ready. Sanchez, the stylists, and their clients donated more than 200 prom-style dresses and more than 100 dress shirts and ties for the teens to choose from.
Sanchez is the hair stylist for Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Nurse Manager Jolynn Piazza, who said she asked him for help and “he just took it and ran with it.”
“It was such a moving experience for us to see the community come together to care for these teenagers in this way,” Piazza added.
Sanchez and the stylists also donated cash to hire the stretch limousine that whisked the teens away to Homeroom, where a red carpet was rolled out to welcome them. Inside they enjoyed dinner, dancing to a DJ who donated his services, and taking silly photos in a photo booth.
Child Life Specialist Jessica Claspill-Garcia, who usually helps kids cope with the stress of being hospitalized, described the event as “amazing.”
“I’ve seen these kids so sad, and so sick and uncomfortable. To see them all dressed up and so excited — this was the highlight of my year.”
Claspill-Garcia was part of the homecoming planning team that included Piazza, Child Life Specialist Carla De Lemos; Pediatrics Manager Ruth Adedeji, RN; Assistant Physician in Chief Jorge Gutierrez, MD; and Erin Wade, co-owner of Homeroom.
Some 20 other Kaiser Permanente nurses, medical students, and interns volunteered at the event. A security guard and environmental services worker also donated their time.
“We hope it becomes an annual event,” said De Lemos, “We felt so good about being able to provide this for the teens.”
Destiny Willis said she’d like to thank the people who put on the dance. She loved the makeup session, the limousine ride — and feeling like a normal teen.
“I didn’t have to hide my sickness, because everyone there was sick,” she said. “We got to get out and have some fun!”