Living your best life with arthritis.

SickKids’ annual prom night gives patients the experience of a lifetime

Picture of two teens from SickKids Great Gatsby-themed prom

Picture taken from the @SickKidsToronto Instagram account


On Friday, patients at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto attended a Great Gatsby-themed prom. For many, this was a second chance at a fairy-tale and to experience what they may have missed at their own school.

This year’s prom marks the hospital’s eighth year of hosting this event. Both in-patient and out-patient teens who missed their own school proms due to illness or treatment are invited. For one night, they can forget about their illness and be a normal teenager. The event connects patients to other people who can understand what they’re going through.

In an interview with CTV News Channel Friday, Vanessa Williams, who gets treatment at SickKids for anxiety issues, said: “The SickKids prom allows kids to interact with each other and make new friends and make connections as well. Williams is also a member of the children’s council who helped to plan this year’s prom.

Andrea Fretz, a child life specialist at the hospital who oversees the SickKids prom, explained to CTV News Channel Friday: “It’s really brought to the teens by the teens and that’s what we’re all about, providing that centre of care so they can be involved in planning things for themselves. It is a gathering for teens to get together and have an opportunity to socialize as isolation is so often felt while being in hospital.”

The event took place at the hospital. One of the rooms at the hospital was transformed into a beauty salon with hair stylists, nail technicians and makeup artists on site to help the teens get ready for their big day. The teens also selected their own jewellery to complement their looks.

The coming-of-age prom experience included live music, dancing, food and photo opportunities. Parents were placed in a room down the hall in case their children needed them. Past events have included guest DJs, live bands and local celebrity visits from Toronto FC players.

When CTV News Channel Friday asked Williams to share her message to other teens facing hardships, she said: “As cliché as it might sound, things will get better. And I feel as if I’m also kind of a prime example of that, as right now, I’m sitting down doing a live television broadcast, which probably wouldn’t have been possible in years that have passed, due to my anxiety. Don’t ever feel alone.”

Vanessa Wiens, a patient at SickKids who missed her prom last year due to jaw surgery to treat juvenile arthritis, wrote about her prom experience in a post called “A Prom of My Own”. Below is an excerpt of her post from SickKids’ Patient/Family Perspective page:

A prom of my own

Vanessa Wiens, SickKids patient

A picture of Vanessa Wiens that was in the A Prom of My Own PostMy name is Vanessa Wiens, I am 17 years old and have been a patient at SickKids since I was nine years old. I have juvenile arthritis that has affected most of the joints in my body, but particularly my jaw and the shape of my face. When I was nine years old, we discovered that my jaw was only the size of a five year old and the reason being the joints in my jaw (temporomandibular joint) were eroding away. I’m 17 now and I just had jaw surgery, because of the timing I was going to miss my school’s prom. Remarkably I was instead invited to attend the SickKids prom. This prom is intended for the teens who have missed their own prom or can’t attend because they can’t leave the hospital.  When I heard this I got so excited, because SickKids has always been a huge part of my life and celebrating with friends by dancing and just hanging out sounded so amazing.

The day of, my friend Katie and I arrived a bit earlier because they offered to do our hair and makeup. The room reserved for getting ready was transformed into a beauty salon. There were tons of hair and makeup artists, a table for getting your nails done and assorted jewellery for us to choose from, if we wanted. It started at 7 p.m. and when we walked into the room I was stunned! I still can’t believe how much work was put into the event. The theme was enchanted forest so, the room was made up with green lights and other decorations. There was a live band playing music and the Toronto FC players came too. They were really nice; they danced with us and took pictures.

My favourite part was actually the photo booth. We took so many pictures and used tons of different props; my favourite being the Darth Vader mask. We had so much fun and I think it was such a great event. It gave us a chance to just have a great time with our friends and not experience any judgment from others. I really hope they continue to hold the prom for years to come!

Juvenile Arthritis Statistics

In a recent Arthritis Consumer Experts patient input, one parent expressed concern that her child missed 60 days of school for treatments, doctor appointments and pain or complications related to her juvenile arthritis. Below are other statistics outlined by Cassie and Friends:

  • Despite being the most common cause of chronic disability in children, affecting 24,000 kids across Canada, juvenile arthritis remains relatively unknown and drastically under-resourced. 
  • A 2010 Ipsos-Reid poll confirmed that only 19% of Canadians are aware that arthritis can strike children.
  • There are only 35 to 50 practicing pediatric rheumatologists in Canada, largely based out of major children’s hospitals.
  • The indirect costs of a child’s rheumatic disease can be enormous. Affected children can lose several weeks of school each year, while parents deal with salary loss, missed work and frequent travel to care for their children. A Nova Scotia study found that most parents paid ~$700/year for out-of-pocket expenses, with huge variability of patient/family needs ranging up to 37% of annual household income. 
  • Access to early diagnosis, affordable care and timely treatments are urgent issues affecting kids and families.
  • A 2016 study found that one in seven out of a population of 102 adolescents with juvenile idiopathic arthritis were found to have significant symptoms of depression.