Original article written at mdanderson.org BY KATRINA BURTON

Teenage cancer patients enjoy an unforgettable evening

MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital was prom central this spring as teenage cancer patients and their families enjoyed an evening of glitz and glam. Thanks to the efforts of Houston business owner Thomas Nguyen and a team of vendors and volunteers, the Prom Party Palooza was a night to be remembered.

Nguyen, former attorney and now co-owner of Peli Peli, a South African fusion restaurant, led efforts to produce the Great Gatsby-themed evening, collaborating with MD Anderson staff and local business owners for months to make prom night “unforgettable.”

“This was one of the most rewarding experiences,” says event co-sponsor Nguyen. “Our vision was to help create the most amazing prom for teens at MD Anderson. The fact that we were able to create a prom experience for their families was an added bonus.”

The inaugural prom was the result of an idea sparked a year ago through a connection with MD Anderson Advance Team member Karissa Barber of Phoenix, Ariz. In Houston for the annual Advance Team advisory board meeting, Barber had dinner at Peli Peli and learned that her husband and Nguyen grew up together. Nguyen expressed his desire to do something for pediatric patients at MD Anderson, and Barber worked with Advance Team Chair David Herr to set the wheels in motion.

“Thomas was willing to close his restaurant on a busy Saturday night to host the prom, but it was easier for prom to take place at the hospital,” says Barber. “That speaks to his commitment to give back.”

Expecting more than 100 patients and families, Nguyen reached out to family, friends, business partners and the community to help organize three separate parties for patients, siblings and parents. He had an overwhelming response with more than 300 dresses donated, over 100 volunteers and a host of restaurants and businesses contributing food and services for the special night, such as a Kendra Scott color bar where patients and their families created custom jewelry. Co-sponsor Jason Poon, CEO of family owned seafood distribution company Marine Foods Express, donated $10,000 to MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in support of the prom.

“I’m grateful to MD Anderson,” says Poon, noting the institution’s care of several family members and friends. “So when Thomas asked for our support, there was no hesitation.”
Beyond the excitement of selecting dresses, getting fitted for tuxedos, beauty makeovers, dancing and enjoying great food was the poignant reality that this might be the only prom experience for many patients, says Nguyen.

“These kids deserved to have a prom they will hopefully remember for the rest of their lives,” he says. “I hope we’re able to do this yearly so every child at MD Anderson has a chance to experience prom.”

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