Patients and families dust off their boots for prom night in the Wild West

Prom night in the Wild West

Teens across the country look forward to prom every year. It is a momentous occasion that marks the end of the school year. But for patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, prom night is extra special.

On Friday, May 19, more than 300 guests attended the 13th annual prom at Packard Children’s. Hosted by the hospital school, the event is not just for high schoolers. Patients of all ages who have gone to the K–12 hospital school this year can attend, along with their friends and family members.

Attendees arrived to find the hospital’s cafeteria completely transformed into “A Night in the Wild West,” complete with an old timey saloon, bank, horse-drawn carriage, bales of hay, wagon wheels and more. Once inside, the evening’s entertainment included a DJ, food and drinks, photo ops, and casino and carnival games on the patio — including a trick-roping cowboy and a gold-mining station.

“I can’t believe this is the cafeteria,” said Sina Sulunga-Kahaialii, a 16-year-old kidney transplant patient at the hospital. “It’s amazing what the school does!”

Wild West cafeteria

Stanford University athletes including Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky stopped by the dance to visit with patients. Players from the San Francisco 49ers made an appearance as well, including Joe Staley, Blake Bell, Chris Jones, Daniel Kilgore, Ronald Blair, Quinton Dial and Norman Price.

Katie Ledecky

Olympic gold medalist and Stanford University freshman Katie Ledecky attended prom and spent time playing carnival games with patients.

For patients like Sina, a current sophomore at the hospital school whose family relocated from Hawaii so she could be treated at Packard Children’s, the hospital’s transformation on prom night helps them feel like “normal kids” with traditional school experiences. “Back home in Hawaii, I wasn’t able to go to my 8th-grade banquet because I was sick. So, it’s really nice to have prom here and be able to go even though I’m in the hospital.”

Sina with friends

Sina (center) with friends from the hospital school.

Some patients took prom as an opportunity to get dressed up in gowns and tuxes, but others — including our hospital school teachers and volunteers — dressed festively for the occasion in cowboy hats, boots and bandanas. Kathy Ho, a teacher at the hospital school and an organizer of the event, said, “Many of these kids will never get to go a ‘regular’ prom, so it’s really important to us to make them feel special on this night and give them an opportunity to have fun.”

hospital school staff

Hospital school staff poses with players from the San Francisco 49ers at the dance.

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Anuj Nanavati echoed that sentiment. Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015, Anuj has been in and out of Packard Children’s for treatment over the past two years. He is back to attending regular school at home in Fremont, CA, most of the time, but he still goes to the hospital school on occasion. This year, he looked forward to reuniting with friends at prom before he heads off to college at UC Merced in the fall.

Anuj with friends

Anuj (center) reunites with friends and teachers from the hospital school.

“I’ve made a lot of friends through the hospital school. Most of us have gone home and back to regular school, so prom is an opportunity to see each other again,” Anuj said. “It’s like a mini-reunion — that’s the best part.”

The event would not be possible without the support of our gracious volunteers and donors, including representatives from PricewaterhouseCoopers, DPR Construction, The San Francisco 49ers, Weir Catering, Feet First Entertainment, CREAM, Jamba Juice, Patxi’s Pizza, Pixar, PayPal, Lucasfilm, Sprinkles Cupcakes, SusieCakes, Chipotle, Tin Pot Creamery and many others.


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