Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 9:05:42 PM PST
By Karen Robes, Staff writer
Angelina Lopez relished her moment. For once, she forgot about the multiple sclerosis that kept her bedside at Miller Children's Hospital.
She forgot about the formality of saying Dr. Warren Chin and simply introduced him as, "my date, Warren."
For once, the Long Beach resident lived her life as any teenager would, mustering the strength to experience the mother of all teenage moments: prom.
Looking every bit like a modern day Cinderella in a fuchsia frock and bejeweled tiara, Lopez attended her Lakewood High School prom Friday night at the Queen Mary, surprising her friends, classmates and teachers.
"I had no idea; I was shocked,' said classmate and friend Runa Rob. "She looks really nice. This is a big deal. She hadn't been in school all year, and now she's here.'
At first, doctors did not know if Lopez would be well enough to go. While they gave their initial OK, Lopez fatigued easily. Diagnosed with progressive MS two years ago, Lopez lost strength her legs and much of her vision from the debilitating disease which affects the nervous system, said Kimberly BeDell, Lopez's pediatric psychologist.
Doctors did not clear Lopez to go until the day before prom.
Meanwhile, hospital employees helped set the stage for the big night. Lopez tried on dresses at Windsor Fashions at the Los Cerritos Center as hospital employees helped. Staff from Bella Salon, set to open June in Naples, did Lopez's hair and makeup for free, and Secure Transportation of Whittier loaned its limousine services for the evening.
Chin postponed a weekend trip to be her date.
"I initially had a flight to Las Vegas tonight,' said Chin, who worked with Lopez for about two months. "The more I thought about, I realized my friends go to Vegas every month. This is perhaps one of the biggest things that's happened to her, and I think she deserves to have a real escort to show up with a corsage. It's my pleasure to do this for her.'
For two hours, Bella stylist Monica Ruffo curled, sprayed and pinned her hair, then primed Lopez' face with pastel eye shadow and frosty lipstick.
"I can't wait to see it,' Lopez said.
"Quick! Get this girl a mirror,' said a hospital employee.
Mirror in hand, Lopez peered at every lash and every wisp of wavy brown hair that framed her face. A tiara and a wrist corsage of three pink roses topped off her look.
There were no words. Just a smile.
The couple dined at "Seaside Inn,' the children's playroom that hospital staffers had transformed into a romantic oceanside restaurant complete with sparkling apple cider and food donated by Parker's Lighthouse. Lopez' grandmother, aunt, uncle, sister, cousin and some hospital staff members joined them.
Lopez' grandmother, Vera Lopez, was overcome with tears.
"I'm so happy,' she said, sobbing. "Everything is so beautiful. It makes me feel so good that she's so happy.'
Lopez said she enjoyed the limo ride to the Queen Mary. She smiled at her date and swayed to the radio music. When the couple arrived, Chin gingerly carried Lopez out of the limousine and placed her in her wheelchair.
Classmate Jennifer Rualo was the first person to recognize Lopez outside the car.
"She's a sweetheart,' Rualo said. "She's great. I've known her since the ninth grade. I didn't even know she was coming. I'm so excited.'
Inside, hip-hop music thumped throughout the three-tiered prom area, decorated in lavender, black and white balloons and streamers. Below, students packed a black-and-white checkered dance floor, their moves made hypnotic by the erratic beams of light that shone through the dimly lighted area.
On the third floor, lines of couples dressed in everything ranging from vintage 1950s frocks to a zebra-print slip dress to a gown resembling Mary Antoinette's waited to pose in front of a dark, oceanic backdrop. Lopez's fuchsia dress fitted within the spectrum of colors other girls wore, a palette that ranged from classic black to turquoise and neon green.
When friends saw Lopez, they immediately swarmed her.
Danielle McKay, who's known Lopez for three years, was one of the few classmates who knew about her coming to the prom.
"I love it; she looks beautiful,' McKay said. "We were on the Internet looking at dresses. It's a big thing for her to be here. She's a really nice, sweet person. She has a lot of strength.'
Teacher Cora Mann, one of the prom chaperones, had Lopez in two of her classes.
"She has the kindest, most sincere heart,' Mann said. "She is accepting of everybody and determined to do everything. I remember when she first got sick. ... I know this is a big moment for her. ... She's just a high schooler.'
For Lopez, the prom was a night to remember.
"It was fun,' she said Monday. "I just wanted to be with my friends
and I got my chance to see everyone. I'm so happy.'
Copyright © 2003 Long Beach Press Telegram