Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Prom at a Hospital? - An amazing story!

As many of you know, my daughter has Crohn's disease and has spent quite a bit of time at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco. Well...a couple of months ago, my daughter was excited to tell me about a special Prom that the hospital was putting on for all the kids who were in the hospital, or had spent time there during the year. The hospital has a Child Life Department that works with kids and their families to deal with, and understand, illness and the treatment. And this team helps works hard so that these kids, many going through Chemotherapy, in wheelchairs, connected to IV poles, who would never be able to attend a high school prom,  have their chance to experience a prom like all other kids. I was so impressed that they were doing this for the kids and I loved the idea.

A week later  I got an email from the hospital asking me to give them a price for me to photograph this event. My first thought was "Submit a bid?? No way - I could never charge for this." And I replied back immediately telling them that I would volunteer for this.

The prom happened on April 25th, and as it turned out, my daughter was in the hospital for most of that week. That is a whole other story which I will get to in a little bit.

So, let's get to the prom. I am excited to share some photos and stories from this amazing event with all of you.

After months of planning, the hospital volunteers transformed the cafeteria into a party room, with cool decorations and a dance floor.

They draped the windows, since it was still light outside, and they brought in a photo booth for the kids.

This was the fourth year that UCSF has put on a prom for the kids, and this year's theme was "Hollywood". They had donations from many companies and individuals. Banana Republic was awesome and supplied dresses, suits, shirts, shoes, and jewelry for the kids. Not loaners, but clothing that the kids could keep after the event. Kudos to Banana Republic for doing this!

In my early discussions with the coordinators of the event, they told me that, not only did they want me to take candid photos, they wanted a photo backdrop to take formal photos of the kids. I started researching Hollywood backdrops, and then realized that I knew a company that had this already. I called my good friends at Denon & Doyle (local DJ company) and asked them if they would donate the use of their backdrop, studio lights, onsite printer and shooter. Without hesitation, they agreed to help out.

As the kids entered the area, they were all given corsages and boutonnieres.

At the time, my daughter had a PICC line in her arm, and she had ordered a polka dotted cover on eBay. After receiving the cover in the mail, she thought that she could make these. So, she and my wife went out and purchased material, and broke out the sewing machine and started making PICC line covers for the other kids at the hospital.  And then they realized that they could get more formal material and make covers to give away at the prom. I love that my daughter came up with the headline for this board.

As the kids entered the room, I photographed them.

Parents were not allowed in the room, only the kids and their caretakers.

It was great to see all the kids dressed up for the big event.

Here is a photo of my daughter's friend Emma (who also has Crohn's) and my daughter, Ali. I had to take this photo outside the Prom room since, as it turned out, my daughter could not attend the event. As my daughter was preparing for the dance, upstairs in her hospital room, the doctors from Infectious Disease came in. They told her that she had tested positive for a virus that she could pose a risk to the other kids, especially the kids who were attending the prom who had little to no immune system. She was devastated! She had looked forward to this for so long. The only good news was, that she was going to be discharged and could attend her real high school prom with her boyfriend, which was the following day. While I went back into the prom without my daughter, she, her friend and the mom's went out to dinner instead. Bummer for all of us!

Even though I was sad not to have my daughter there, I was still happy to provide me services to everyone else. I went back into the prom to continue shooting.

I took this photo to show how the nurses were there to support the kids.

...And just like any other high school kids, they were busy taking photos of each other and selfies.

You have to love the smiles on these kids faces!

The hospital staff was awesome. There not only to support the medical needs of the kids, but for emotional support too.

This is one of my favorite photos from the night. This is Samantha, who is obviously going through a lot of medical treatment right now, but from the smile on her face, seems to forget all of that for the evening!

And more kids enjoying themselves.

Here is DJ Matteo who was mixing up the music for the kids...

...and they were enjoying every second of it.

This guy had some serious moves, and I loved his attitude.

This beautiful young lady showed up a little late to the party, but clearly enjoyed the festivities.

It was an eclectic group of kids, which made the prom even more fun.

After taking photos of these girls, I asked David to join them for this photo.

You gotta have the mustaches!

As I roamed around, shooting the photos, I overheard the kids introducing themselves to each other. Unlike a high school prom, where most of the kids would know each other, this was not necessarily the case with this dance. But I loved the way that everyone enjoyed each other's company, without any judging or prejudice.

I was focusing on these guys, just as they reached over and fist-pumped. I was happy to catch this moment!

This was another favorite moment from that evening, when these two nurses got out on the dance floor and busted some moves with this boy. Awesome!

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. This is so true in this photo, as you can see so much life in these two. After shooting this photo, I turned away and with tears in my eyes, from happiness.

More nurses and doctors dancing the night away...

After the prom was over, I asked all of the volunteers to stick around so that we could do a group photo. Unfortunately, I did not get everyone in the photo, since many of the volunteers were helping patients back to their rooms. But I was happy to get many of them in this photo. I asked them to take the "Hollywood" letters from the wall and bring them into the photo.

It was truly an inspirational evening. I was surrounded by all these kids, who have faced more challenges than any youngster should have to. And I saw countless hospital staff and volunteers who helped these kids forget their challenges for one special night. All of them inspired me!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.


Dawn Gail said...

Awesome pics. Glad these kids got to have a great Prom and get to feel normal for a small window of time. Love seeing all of their smiling faces.

Justin said...

Jeff, I love the back story as much as the photographs. You can really tell that everyone had a great time. Thank you for helping out to give them that part of their childhood back.

Unknown said...

Great post Jeff! Inspirational.

Unknown said...

Jeff your are one amazing human being
i love all your photos from the hospital prom

Gary said...

What an inspired event. Kudos to all who organised and helped. A great effort.
Call me twisted, but I had a quiet chuckle to myself when I thought of a comparison to a 'normal' prom.
Normally there are teachers present to make sure the kids don't do drugs. Here, there were Doctors and Nurses present to help the kids with their (chemo) drugs.
I bet the helpers got as much out of it as the kids obviously did.
Again, a great story, told so well.

Neil Craigan said...

I almost always enjoy reading your blog posts but this is the first one that reduced me to tears! There's great value in sharing our gifts with others.

Anonymous said...

I second the comment about bringing me to tears. I volunteered in a childrens hospital years ago. I commend you on volunteering to do this. So many would have charged. I believe you got as much from this as the kids did. It will be something that you will remember years from now just as the kids will look back on it as well. I am being positive in thinking they will get well and go home.

Unknown said...

Jeff thanks for a great post, I had tears in my eyes reading through it. I love shooting events like this, helps ground yourself.


Kara said...

Jeff, I met you at the Cantoni's house a few years ago. I saw that Brian had posted this on FB. This is beautiful and I really enjoyed each picture and your comments. What a beautiful gift you gave to those kids. I hope your daughter is doing better.

Jeff E Jensen said...

This is fantastic, Jeff! What a great opportunity to use your talents to make a difference for these kids. I've been following your work for a while, in fact it was a post similar to this from a couple of years ago that brought you and your work to my attention. While I enjoy your images and writing in general, it is stuff like this that sets you apart from the crowd. Keep it up!

Unknown said...

Absolutely amazing. As a child I spent a good bit of time in the hospital. I wish they would have done something like this back then.

Jeff Wallace said...

God Bless you Jeff for the work you do with these young people and in general as a Dad. I always enjoy your posts and this one does not disappoint. You are inspiring and I look forward to the next one!

SEH said...

Wonderful event and terrific photos! Thanks for doing this - and thanks so much for sharing and being an inspiration for others! WHat a beautiful evening.

Anonymous said...

And Billy Bob says anGODbless.

Old 400 said...

You photo a lot of Event, Jeff, but this is one of your finest.

Will you include this in your next B&H seminar? When will your next one be coming?

Amar said...

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