ST. PETERSBURG — Under the harsh hospital lights in Room No. 9, a make-up artist wearing a paper mask brushed mascara onto Stacey Karavokiros' long lashes. A stylist curled her dark hair into loose ringlets. Her mom clipped a rhinestone bracelet around her left wrist.
"Okay," her mom, Irene, said just before 7 p.m. Saturday. "It's time for the dress." She helped Stacey out of her green hospital gown, into the flowing red dress that had been made especially for her. Then she eased her daughter into a wheelchair, untangled four lines from the IV pole, and opened the door.
Her younger sister sobbed. Her little brother took pictures. "Oh my gosh!" "Beautiful!" "Just look at her!" cried a dozen doctors and nurses as her mom rolled her down the hall.
Stacey, 17, was supposed to go to her prom Saturday night. But the Tarpon Springs High senior was too sick to leave All Children's Hospital. Two weeks ago, her body started rejecting her heart — the second one she's had transplanted. Her kidneys and lungs are suffering from all the medicines. Doctors don't know when she'll be able to leave.
So Saturday night, a party bus pulled up in front of the hospital and 22 teenagers spilled out. Dressed in dark suits and evening gowns, with roses pinned to their chests, they filed into a conference room where a woman with a badge was waiting with hand sanitizer. "Welcome! Thank you for coming!" she called. "Please, everybody, wash your hands."
Since Stacey couldn't go to the prom, the prom came to her. Hospital workers hung two disco balls in the conference room; a DJ volunteered to come spin tunes; a caterer donated chicken fingers and pasta salad, a fruit tray and enormous cake.
Her classmates canceled their dinner reservations at Harborview Center in Clearwater so they could share at least part of their evening with Stacey.
Her date, who decided he didn't want to go to the prom alone, came to the hospital too. "Prom is about being with your friends," said Kaliope Hatzileris, 18. "So of course we all wanted to be here with her."
Stacey had to wear a mask. Monitors blinked and buzzed behind her head. But once she was in the conference room, she stood up slowly and shoved aside her wheelchair.
"I just can't believe they all came out here for me," Stacey said, her eyes welling. "I just don't want to see them all go."
Then the DJ put on a Greek song, and everyone locked arms in a circle, and Stacey's mom dragged the IV pole behind her. And, for a few minutes at least, Stacey got to dance at her prom.