Teen celebrates prom while in the hospital

COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Skylar Russell finished her prom makeup, she turned in her hospital bed to look at her grandfather.

“Papa, don’t cry. Because if you cry, I’ll cry. And then we’ll all be crying,” she said.

If Randal Russell was going to cry, he didn’t let it show.

Neither of them expected this day to come.

When 15-year-old Skylar Russell fell ill in April, she’d already bought her prom dress and shoes. The staff at MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital wasn’t going to let them go to waste, the Columbia Missourian reported.

Because she missed her high school’s prom, her nurses and doctor brought the prom to her. They recreated a prom, complete with a gown, a tiara and even a homecoming king, music, dancing and snacks. It was a night none of them will forget.


At 11:30 p.m. April 11, Skylar Russell told her grandparents, who are her guardians, that she had a persistent stomach pain. The Osage Beach teen had undergone major surgery for Crohn’s disease about a year earlier, so the family took no chances. They drove the hour and a half to Women’s and Children’s Hospital so Skylar could see a specialist.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract.

At the hospital, Skylar Russell’s condition quickly deteriorated. She turned ash gray and lost color in her lips, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

A few days after her arrival, she fainted. Her surgeon, Venkataraman Ramachandran, decided exploratory surgery was needed to figure out what was wrong.

An adhesion, a sort of internal scar tissue, had formed after her first surgery a year ago and was cutting off blood circulation in her small intestine.

Ramachandran ended up removing about 4 feet of Skylar Russell’s intestine that day.

“He was concerned with saving her life,” Randal Russell told the Columbia Missourian .

The Russells prayed, and called their friends to pray, too. Skylar Russell made it through the surgery.

In the months after, she underwent another five follow-up procedures. Earlier this month she was able to get rid of her external ostomy bag, which collected waste from her intestine. But she still can’t eat, and her family doesn’t know when she’ll get to go home.

Her family and nurses say she hasn’t lost an ounce of personality. She jokes with the nurses and speaks openly about her situation. When she was prescribed ointment to help her scars fade, she threw it right in the trash.

“Scars mean that you went through it and survived,” Skylar Russell said. “I’m still here. I could’ve died, but I didn’t, and I have proof. Plus, it looks like I was in a knife fight.”

Prom wasn’t one of Skylar Russell’s priorities when she first came to the hospital — she had bigger things to worry about. But after being there for a few weeks, hardly able to leave her bed, she started thinking about it.


Sarah Camp, a nurse technician at the children’s hospital, was braiding Skylar Russell’s hair after a shower when she made a joke about Camp doing her hair for prom.

A few days later, Skylar Russell and child life specialist Corinne Joplin came up with the idea to actually have an ’80s-themed prom in the hospital.

“I know who’s doing my hair and makeup,” Skylar Russell said.

Camp showed up at Skylar Russell’s room more than two hours before the dance with her own curling iron and makeup bag. The two not only share similar tastes in TV shows and room decorations — they also wear the same shade of foundation.

As they prepared, Skylar Russell’s nurses started to arrive. Some of them came dressed in ’80s costumes, with side ponytails, fanny packs and off-the-shoulder tops. Others brought their outfits in bags, and used Skylar Russell’s bathroom to do their hair and makeup.

Two nurses skipped a Shania Twain concert. One was avoiding an online class. Another hadn’t slept in 24 hours. They all decided the prom was more important.

They bantered with Skylar Russell, who is known for sassing her nurses. She gets along best with the nurses who sass her right back, she said.

“If Skylar’s yelling at you, she’s fine,” one said.

“If she’s not yelling at you, then there’s a problem,” another shouted from the bathroom.

An on-duty nurse came in and disconnected Skylar Russell from the tubing to which she’s been attached for months. She was first disconnected the day before, when she was feeling well and her grandfather decided to teach her how to waltz. They had danced together in the hospital hall while Skylar Russell’s grandmother, Helen Russell, recorded it on her phone.


When the time came, the grandparents took photos with Skylar Russell, then escorted her down the hall to the physical therapy room.

“We wouldn’t have been at her real prom, so we decided not to go to this one either,” Helen Russell said. They planned on leaving immediately, but peeked through the door to see Skylar Russell dancing with her nurses before heading out.

Joplin brought her ’80s-themed wedding decorations. Someone had Photoshopped the faces of Ramachandran and other hospital staff onto posters of classic ’80s movies, including “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.” Skylar Russell put on rainbow leg warmers and a single purple fishnet glove to get into the theme.

“A lot of people are ready to give up when they have difficult circumstances, but not her,” said Ramachandran.

Skylar Russell was named prom queen, and Ramachandran was crowned prom king. It was his first prom.

On the way in, guests all signed a shirt for Skylar Russell.

“You can climb mountains,” Ramachandran wrote.

Skylar Russell took her shoes off after less than 45 minutes so she could better dance to songs like “Low” by Flo Rida and “Time of my Life” from Dirty Dancing.

“This feels like a real prom experience,” she said.

DJs from Y107-FM presented her with four tickets to see one of her favorite bands, Paramore, in concert in a few weeks.

About two dozen guests attended the party. The Child Life department, where Joplin works, tries to make patients feel more at-home during their hospital stay by putting together events and activities specific to each patient.

“When you’re a patient in the hospital, you get hospital hair, you get gross, you’re sitting in a bed all day and you have no motivation to do anything except watch videos on your phone,” Camp said. “So when you get a chance to get all dressed up and look really nice … You can just tell she felt better.”

Skylar Russell danced for over an hour with her nurses, who she considers her friends. It was the longest she’d been disconnected from machines and tubes since she’d been admitted to the hospital.

“For what she’s been through, she deserves something like this,” Randal Russell said. “I really think they’re going to miss her when she leaves here.”