Jamilette spots the dress nearly the instant she enters the room. The gown flows with powder blue tulle, an elegant pearl sash and is topped in pastel rose. It is a far cry from the tiresome cotton hospital gowns that usually await her arrivals at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute. But this is no ordinary day. This day is a quinceañera.
The centuries-old rite of passage into womanhood traditionally includes a large party on a girl’s 15th birthday. The celebrations date to the Aztec and Toltec civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica. But Jamilette’s motivation is present day. “I wanted to have this memory for my mom and grandmother. I couldn’t have a party because of my chemotherapy, so this is for the three of us,” says the leukemia fighter about a special photo shoot orchestrated by the hospital.
“When I called Jamilette on the afternoon of her 15th birthday, she said she and her mom and brother were going to order Chinese takeout, and they didn’t have a party planned,” says Amanda Sliby, bilingual schoolteacher for the hospital. “My boss is always talking about thinking outside the box, and I wanted Jamilette to have more for such an important milestone. I called the hospital’s photographer to brainstorm. He contacted the infection prevention director and Jamilette’s care team. I was so excited to call her back with the idea.”
Scheduled around Jamilette’s treatments, the office supervisor for environmental services makes sure the largest conference room at the hospital, turned photo studio, is cleared of all tables and chairs to comply with physical distancing safeguards. A volunteer coordinator from the Belle of the Ball Project with Goodwill-Suncoast delivers a collection of dresses. And a local florist includes a second bouquet of silk flowers that will never wilt. It isn’t until Jamilette’s mom, Claudia, quietly reaches into a bag that she’s carrying that perfection is reached. She removes a tiara for Jamilette to wear. It’s the only thing in the room brighter than her daughter’s smile.
Kristin Maier, the hospital’s Child Life director says, “This is a beautiful representation of multidisciplinary teams and our community coming together to create meaningful memories for families.”
But upon seeing the photos online, Jamilette’s grandmother in Mexico sums the day up best. “She’s a princess.”
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