Young people, volunteers, and Hollywood celebrities shared a spectacular evening on Sunday, January 14, 2007 at the 8th Annual Renal Teen Prom, held on the campus of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA, a Los Angeles suburb. The prom–a free event for teens and young adults with kidney disease–is put on annually by the Renal Support Network (RSN), a non-profit organization based in Southern California.
“Midnight at the Oasis: An Evening Among the Stars” was the theme of this year’s gala, which was set in the style of a senior prom. The teens were treated to a night of dancing and entertainment, dinner and hors d’oeuvres, limousine rides, glamour photos, and caricature artists. They also are given the chance to discover that they are not alone in their struggles with kidney disease, and that one friend can make a difference
A number of Hollywood celebrities made special appearances at the prom including Gary Sinise, MarkHarmon, Sinbad, Griff and Stephen Furst, Alexa Vega, Christy Carlson Romano, Beto Cuevas and the Clipper Cheerleaders. Griff Furst, who is well-known among horror movie fans, was the prom’s emcee. Many of these celebrities have either attended Notre Dame High or have children who attend.
The prom is the inspiration of Lori Hartwell, RSN’s president and founder, who has survived kidney disease for 38 years and missed her own prom. Teenagers with kidney disease miss large amounts of school because ofprolonged absences due to health problems.
“I was on dialysis all through my high school years,” says Hartwell, “and I really wanted to reach out to other teens who didn’t get to experience a lot of the things that I didn’t get to experience. I wanted them to have the same opportunities as everyone else, and I didn’t want them to miss this coming-of-age event. So I decided to organize the prom, and every year it grows. It’s been an amazing thing.
“An illness is too demanding when you don’t have hope,” continues Hartwell. “My goal at the prom is to let other teenagers, young adults, anybody who lives with a chronic illness know that they can live a joyful life in spite of chronic illness. And one of the most important things that allows you to do so is being able to connect with others who understand your particular brand of experience.”
“I was introduced to the Renal Teen Prom last year, and I volunteered and met Lori Hartwell for the first time. An incredible woman, an inspiration to me to get more involved with the renal cause,” says Jenny. “The Renal Teen Prom is so important because you see these kids just growing. All night long, they’re so happy. Grins from ear to ear. A night of pure normalcy where they don’t have to worry about guzzling a million pills or having to hook up to their machine that night. It allows them to have a good time and be amongst their peers.”
Helping to make the prom a success are the Notre Dame students who volunteer their time and energy in planning, setting up, and taking part in the event. “There are 40 seniors from Notre Dame who we work with and teach about kidney disease,” says Hartwell. “In exchange, they tell us what’s cool and help us create an environment that the teens love to come to. In the process, they’re able to give service to the community. In return, we get a high energy, creative teen population that wants to help with helping other people.”
Stephen Furst–best known for his roles in the movie Animal House (he played “Flounder”) and in the TV series St. Elsewhere and Babylon 5–is a kidney patient himself and was emcee at last year’s prom. He also is Hartwell’s co-host of RSN’s weekly online radio talk show KidneyTalk (listen in at RSNhope.org).
“When my kidney disease started getting worse, I was put in touch with RSN,” says Furst, “and then last year I was ‘forced’ to volunteer for this Renal Teen Prom. And I’ve never been so happy in my life to have done so, because I have never seen such happy faces before on teens who have this chronic illness. If people only knew what it’s like to have to stick yourself all the time with these needles, and not being able to do the things that a lot of teens can do, ”travel and everything”, then you’ll see how happy these kids are to lead a normal life, as much as they can. The prom is a wonderful event,” adds Furst. “I had a great time. I couldn’t stop dancing. They had to throw me off the dance floor! And I hope that even more people find out about the Renal Teen Prom and support it.”
“This really is an interesting event,” adds Hartwell. “You have the people who live with kidney disease, the people who care for them, and the community all coming together to make an incredible event.”
Special recognition to Notre Dame High School and all their students and volunteers who have helped make this event spectacular.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Amgen, Roche, Fresenius Medical Care, DaVita, Abbott, Astellas, American Regent, Watson and Donate Life.
Find out more about RSN’s Renal Teen Prom
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