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SickKids prom event makes an enchanting return after four-year hiatus
14 minute read

SickKids prom event makes an enchanting return after four-year hiatus


For three long-time patients, the return of SickKids’ annual prom event gave them a second chance at the one they had to miss.

Rylan, dressed in a suit with a corsage, adjusting the bravery beads on Hope's neck.

Hope Cleveland (right) and her date Rylan Lusk (left) get ready to take customary photos for SickKids’ prom night. 

For Hope Cleveland, SickKids’ July 5 prom event was a real-life fairytale.

Donning a shimmering pastel purple dress that looks like starlight, 16-year-old Hope stands under the trees and twinkling lights that make up the event’s enchanted forest theme. A Taylor Swift song aptly plays in the background. Surprisingly unplanned, she matches perfectly with the hydrangeas that cover the Rotunda, and yet, she outshines them. But that’s not the fairytale.  

Holding Hope’s hand and wearing a corsage matching the one he handmade for her is Rylan Lusk, 18, who recently graduated from SickKids. The couple of about a year became inseparable after they met through an online support group chat that Hope created for other SickKids patients. Hope remembers it was the first time she felt like someone around her age understood the nuances of what she’d gone through. They’d both had similar health experiences and a long journey at the hospital. 

“I was always that kid that's broken, that kid that always has something wrong,” recalls Hope, who has had a years-long battle with Idiopathic Juvenile Osteoporosis since she was 11. 

Two matching corsages consisting of white, cerulean and navy blue flowers. Rylan wears his corsage on his vest pocket, while Hope wears her corsage on her wrist.

“It was hard for people my age to understand what my life is like, and why I’m always the one that’s not around,” says Hope.  

Though her condition improved with treatment, a car accident in 2023 took away Hope’s brief chance at feeling like a typical teen. The accident had shattered her femur and caused injuries across her body. It was a devastating setback made more complicated by her chronic pain, which was residual from her osteoporosis. Most days, the pain made it difficult for her to get out of bed. 

In the spring of 2024 and one femur surgery later, Hope was starting to feel better. She and her mom, Stephanie Cleveland, vividly remember talking about dress shopping on the way to her follow-up appointment, because Rylan had asked Hope to be his date at his upcoming school prom. 

It became a rare happy conversation in a stream of others consumed by medical appointments and tests. Hope felt like she was finally able to dream about the future again.  

Sitting in her doctor’s office, though, Hope was told she’d need to have another corrective surgery on her femur. Not only did this mean she’d have to recover all over again, but it was also set for April 2024, just days before Rylan’s prom.   

“In the car coming home, we were then saying, ‘OK, this time around, let's get a more comfortable wheelchair.’ And looking at that juxtaposition from talking about dresses to wheelchairs, that’s when we knew prom was out of the picture entirely,” says Stephanie.  

Four SickKids prom attendees posing for a photo. One of them is enjoying a dessert.

SickKids' prom attendees enjoy catered food and desserts in the Rotunda.

A second chance

It's because of the many missed opportunities that often characterize patients’ health journeys that SickKids started its annual prom event, which gives them a chance to experience a major rite of passage in their teenhood.  

“It’s a moment for them to forget they are in hospital or living with chronic health conditions,” says Laura McGrath, a Child Life Specialist and the lead organizer of this year’s prom with support from SickKids’ Children’s Council.

The event is back after a four-year COVID-19 pandemic hiatus, and features high-end catered fare, a fantasy-themed photobooth, and dancers. Patients and caregivers, meanwhile, can stay close by and are treated to a movie night down the hall in the hospital’s Daniels Hollywood Theatre. 

“There’s a lot of emotion seeing our efforts come together after so long. Watching the kids get their hair and make-up done, and especially seeing their first reactions when they round the corner for the first time, has been more magical than I could ever imagine,” she says. 

Patients getting their hair and makeup done inside Marnie's Studio. A girl is seated while connected to an IV drip. A lady is blow-drying her hair.

Patients get their hair and makeup done for prom in Marnie’s Studio at SickKids. 

A way to say goodbye

Across the Rotunda on the dance floor, Kyle Kennedy is pushing himself to do two things that typically make him nervous: dancing and talking with other teens.

It’s the first time in a long time that he’s been nervous about something an average teen would be. He spent the last few years battling a benign brain tumour and undergoing several surgeries. 

Kyle dressed in a suit, with red dress shirt and striped tie. Sean, dressed in a black dress shirt and red tie, poses for a photo with Kyle.
Kyle Kennedy socializes with friends and his prom guest, Sean.

During one brain surgery in December 2020, doctors managed to remove his tumour. But Kyle had a seizure during the procedure and needed to be placed into a medically induced coma. He woke up three months later to find out that he and his family had moved into a new home, and he had to switch schools to accommodate his additional needs. 

“I missed being able to graduate with my friends. It was hard to watch them all move on with their lives. I was stuck in time,” says Kyle.   

Laura has worked with Kyle throughout his time at SickKids, and the two have a special bond. With tears welling up in her eyes, Laura looks on as Kyle hangs out with a group of new friends on the dance floor.  

“He’s a little bit shy and withdrawn. And we’re creating this prom experience where he can get his hair done and feel pampered and important, at a place where he feels safe and seen. I think it will all have a huge impact,” says Laura. 

Kyle also couldn’t attend his own prom event. As an 18-year-old currently moving on from SickKids into adult care, tonight’s prom holds an even deeper meaning for him. 

“My goal coming here was to connect with other teens like me, who understand my experiences. But it’s also like a graduation with my peers and a prom all in one. It’s my way to say goodbye to SickKids,” says Kyle.  

Two SickKids' prom attendees in dresses. They pose for a photo together in front of an enchanted forest-themed backdrop, with flower bushes, trees and a golden gate.
Two SickKids' prom attendees pose at the enchanted forest-themed photo booth.

And, against all odds, it’s Hope and Rylan’s second chance at a special night they so desperately longed to spend together. 

“I spent my 16th birthday in bed. Then Christmas was a week later. I missed Rylan’s prom. So it’s nice to finally have something to look forward to. It’s a really good day after a year of bad days,” says Hope, who now sits with Rylan off to the side of the event space.   

As Rylan recently aged out of SickKids’ care, he says the event gives him a chance to make one last positive memory here, with the person he loves most.  

‘We may both go to different schools, but we’ve both grown up going to SickKids, so this is really our own kind of prom. It’s our new beginning,” he says while looking over at Hope, who looks back at him beaming.  

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