There are few events more special for a young person than the senior prom. It’s a way to celebrate the memories, accomplishments and friendships from all those years of school. That’s why Atlanta’s Raven Johnson was so devastated when she couldn’t go.
There happened to be a very good reason. For a special group of people, that reason wasn’t good enough. Some might say that 18-year-old Raven Johnson is a lucky young lady. Diagnosed with a devastating immune system disease, she has been hospitalized nine times in the last three years.
“She has been very sick in the past,” said head of rheumatology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Dr. Larry Vogler. “She has actually had a cardiac arrest in one previous admission.”
“My husband, her dad, was there,” said Yolanda Johnson, Raven’s mother. “And stayed with her and called me — 1:00 in the morning — to tell me that she had arrested. And she was given less than a 20 percent chance of living.”
Last month, Raven Johnson was admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta again. Her body was attacking itself, again. She was put on life support, again. And she came out of it, again.
”We had machines doing the work of her body,” said child life specialist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Rebecca Birchler, “so that her body could do the work of healing.”
“The good part about her,” said Children’s Healthcare Chaplain Kenny Hammond,” is she has this fight…you know? And even when you think she’s at her lowest point, she always manages to bounce back.”
This time Raven Johnson emerged from heavy sedation after two weeks. During that time her toes and fingers were damaged by low circulation, but that’s not what bothered her the most.
“She starts bawling,” her mother Yolanda Johnson recalled, “when she says, ‘two weeks! Two weeks!! Aaaaaaah!’ she missed her prom. And so she was more devastated over missing her prom than she was the appearance and the possible surgery on her fingers and toes.”
But prom season has come and gone, and Raven Johnson has missed hers. ”The light went off in my head,” said Hammond. “and I started thinking: well, we’ve done other crazy things outside the box….got creative in providing care for kids. So I thought I think we can do a prom for Raven.”
Chaplain Kenny Hammond got with child life specialist Rebecca Birchler to plan one more prom. ”What was going to be just a couple of friends,” Rebecca Birchler said, “at the bedside really developed into something befitting the name ‘prom’.”
The food would be donated, the flowers would be donated, a photographer and D.J. would be there, all for free. But for this plan to work, Teena Gamble would need to work her magic.
Gamble is a friend of the Johnson family, who happens to be a professional makeover artist. ”I’m going to tell her today,” she explains, “Raven, they’re doing a story on me on doing make-overs and you’re going to be a part of my make-over story.”
Teena will bring a prom dress and accessories, donated by Miz Scarlett’s, to Raven, ostensibly for the make-over story. But in fact she will be getting Raven ready for her prom.
Teena has arranged for a hairstylist and a makeup artist. She can’t resist tweaking her story.
“Raven is my, she’s representing the youth,” Teena announced in Raven’s hospital room. “And, she will represent either going to a family gala or prom.”
Downstairs, led by Chaplain Hammond, a Children’s Healthcare crew turns a conference room into a party room. At the same time, at Rockdale High School, teachers and students got ready, and boarded a bus for the trip to Children’s Healthcare, and one more prom.
“I think it will make her a lot happier” says Raven’s best friend Kyle Berry, “that she actually had a prom her senior year. And it’s with her close friends.”
Raven is ready now for what she thinks is a photo shoot downstairs. Everyone is here. Everyone is ready for one more prom. In this instant, she understands that she has not been left behind — that her friends have not forgotten her — that she is still a part of their lives, and she, a part of theirs.
“I saw my friend Kadrian,” Raven said. “And then I saw everybody else, and I was just like ‘wow!’ I was speechless.”
Rockdale High recreated its prom theme: A Night at the Oscars — with Raven receiving the “best fighter” award. And then her childhood friend, actor Justin Martin showed up — and then D.J.. Frank Ski showed up, and then R and B singer Monica showed up.
Raven Johnson has heard many times that she was never expected to get this far. ”They gave me a little door hanger that says if, if you’re handed it, you can handle it,” Raven said. “So, I hope they learn: don’t let circumstances discourage you.”
Next year, Raven is set to attend Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, where she will study business and mass communications. But first things first, her high school graduation is May 29, and she desperately wants to be there.
To do that she must complete her rehabilitation at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Her doctors are skeptical. She says she’ll make it.
Raven Johnson will still have to deal with the consequences of her disease and the threat it poses. But, for the rest of her life, she will remember how she felt, the moment she realized she’d be going to one more prom.
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