Children’s hospital throws socially distanced prom for cancer patents

From Scripps Media 

The coronavirus has ruined a lot of things, but Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California, made sure that the virus didn’t cancel prom. 

CHOC Ball 2020 had everything, even a disco ball.

“I will never forget asking our maintenance crew to help me hang some disco balls from our valet which has never happened before.” Kara Noskoff, a program coordinator for the Child Life department at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, said.

It’s her job to normalize the hospital environment for kids of all ages. She helps throw the oncology ball, which is held every year, to recreate what teems might miss out on at school.

“It’s not like going to their school dance,” Noskoff said. “They’re in a room full of 200 plus people dancing and taking pictures and dressed up with the health care professionals that took care of them as well as their peers that all have the same scars.”

Except it’s 2020. And it almost didn’t happen due to too many high-risk patients and too many high-risk exposures. But the staff at Children’s Hospital decided happiness is important too.

“Their mental health and growth and development is so important as well. I’m so proud of… our staff to see that bigger picture and push the boundaries a little bit and find a way to keep them safe but give them these things to look forward to,” Noskoff said.

They turned what was supposed to be a huge party into a socially distanced, masked, drive thru experience complete with a theme. “Driving through the decades” had a photo booth, party favors, music and dancing. And it was everything that 17-year-old Veronica Larson could dream of.

“There’s a bridge that crosses from the hospital into the employee parking and I looked up and all the nurses that had finished their shift were up in the bridge they were all cheering and clapping there was music playing,” Larson said.

Cancer treatment is hard enough. Add in COVID-19 and its restrictions, and teens like Larson have struggled.

“I would be considered immunocompromised so I’m being extra careful but there are safe ways like this oncology ball, but I am able to see my peers and that’s one of the reasons why it was so important to everyone being able to have that interaction in such a time of isolation,” Larson said.

Back in 2015, Larson was an aspiring gymnast. She suffered a pulled hamstring that led to exhaustion and then a diagnosis of leukemia. She was only 12 years old. Now, she’s in remission and building back her strength. And found her way back into gymnastics as a coach.

“My hair is growing back. I’m trying to rock the short hair,” Larson said.

The medical staff at CHOC is a huge part of Larson’s life. After all, they helped her apply for college from her hospital bed. The soon to be freshman at UCLA wants to go into pediatric medicine and credits the children’s hospital that gave her so much life with helping her find her future.

“Obviously it’s an area I’ve been involved in and I think I can make a difference there and I’ve met incredible people and I would love to be a part of a team of such amazing people,” she said.

Amazing people who all got to be together, even if from a distance for one night, created an evening that was just as magical for the staff as it was for the patients.

“The night itself blew me away it was beyond anything I could have imagined,” Larson said.

Proof that the coronavirus can’t steal joy, happiness, or prom.