Annual Kidney Prom Promotes Networking, Fun, Self-Confidence

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By Kasia Michalik

Imagine being a high school student who just got diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Your life gets flipped upside down. Learning about the disease, going through dialysis treatments and watching your potassium and salt intake becomes a priority. That special moment in your high school career—prom—becomes a distant memory.

Lori Hartwell, president and founder of the Renal Support Network (RSN), was that student who has dealt with kidney disease since she was two.

"I didn't feel like I would belong if I went to my own prom because I missed a lot of school and I didn't really connect with my other peers. I decided to created the prom because I wanted other teenagers with kidney disease to meet their peers and have a great event where they can create friendships that last a lifetime," Hartwell said. "I wanted to connect with teenagers too so that they would understand that somebody survived with this illness."

The prom is going strong for 13 years. On January 20, from 6  to 11 p.m.,  the annual Renal Teen Prom will open it's doors for the 14th time at the Norte Dame High School  in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The prom is for anyone—between the ages of 14 and 24—who has  CKD, ESRD or has had a transplant.

"We always have it on Martin Luther King weekend, that Sunday night," Hartwell said. "We do that because on Sundays people don't have to worry about going to dialysis that day and Monday is not a school day and it seems to work out."

Kids from all over California come and about a dozen come from other states.  The event has been held at Norte Dame since the beginning. Hartwell, who had four  teenagers volunteering for her from there, got the idea from them to approach the principal and start the prom at their high school.

"They let me use the premises," she said. "I had it in the cafeteria for the first three years and we have grown so big that we have taken over the gym, the cafeteria and the campus of Notre Dame High School."

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