By Linda Freidel, The Kansas City Nursing News
Alex Fraser and Emily Todd attended an unconventional prom. The evening sparkled with a different kind of magic. It was a night that Todd says she will never forget.
“It was probably the most memorable and remarkable night I had in my high school years,” said Todd, 18, a graduate of Blue Valley high school. “I think it was a lot better than the actual prom. I got to do something different. It felt like we were characters in a Nicholas Sparks book.”
Family paparazzi followed Todd and Fraser, of Overland Park, to an outdoor terrace to snap their photos. Others peeked through picture windows. Todd and Fraser were poised beneath an archway of blue and white balloons. The couple shot smiles as cameras clicked. Flashes lit up Todd’s silver sequins and Fraser’s satin vest and black bow tie. Todd shivered a little in her sleeveless gown, but neither of them stopped grinning. Todd credits a nurse for the prom that almost didn’t happen. She called her an angel.
“I was so excited,” Todd said. “I had no idea what it would turn out like. I was shocked. It was awesome.” Fraser set eyes on Todd that night as family and friends looked on. She was a vision, he said. “It was amazing to see her in the dress,” Fraser said. “She was beautiful. It was perfect.”
Erin Ragner, RN, critical care nurse at Menorah Medical Center, and Fraser grew close while Ragner cared for him in intensive care in March. Ragner supported the high school teenager, physically and emotionally for 10 of his 13 days in the ICU, she said. They laughed together and cried together. Ragner admired Fraser’s independent, can-do attitude.
He played drums for the marching band, set a record for the swim team and earned his Eagle Scout merit badge, building garden beds that disabled children can reach. He is just very motivated, Ragner said. He is just an all-around great kid, she said.
“He just had an incredible attitude and incredible spirits the majority of the time,” Ragner said. “He worked very hard to do anything I asked him to do. He was dedicated.”
With his Blue Valley high school prom looming, Fraser wondered about the dance. One night after his second surgery, he asked Ragner if his pain would improve before prom on Saturday. His eyes moistened when Ragner told him he would not be ready to go to prom that week, she said.
“From that moment on I knew I needed to do something,” Ragner said. Todd had already decided to dress in her prom gown and bring a dinner in for Fraser, but Ragner had bigger plans. “We’re going to make it a prom,” Ragner said. “I wanted to make it a really nice event. Get him up in a chair.”
Ragner started planning and pulled others in. She coordinated with the couple’s families. Todd’s family would carry dinner from the Bristol restaurant and secure a professional photographer, while Fraser’s father would supply jazz tunes for the night. Ragner originally wanted to set up a candle light dinner with flameless candles on the hospital’s third floor terrace. The landscaped terrace with its wooden bridge would set the mood. Instead, it became the site for their personal paparazzi.
Ragner trellised blue and white balloons over the wooden bridge for photo ops, then converted a conference room into a “restaurant.” She decorated it with flowers, paper lanterns, flameless tea candles, and white linen tablecloth and table confetti. “I wanted to make him the center of attention,” she said. “Let him have a normal fun night.”
Todd and Fraser’s siblings became servers coursing dishes of potatoes, asparagus, lobster tail, fish and steak from Todd’s favorite restaurant. Parents peeked in through the door. Jazz tunes set the mood, Fraser said. “It was a romantic thing,” Fraser said.
After Fraser’s surfing accident the couple grew closer, Todd said. They have known each other since grammar school. They had only dated for a couple months, but Todd said she has always admired Fraser for his kindness towards others. It did not matter where the prom was held, Todd said. Being with him, no matter where it was, would make the night, she said.
Todd and Fraser finished up their prom in Fraser’s ICU room listening to music and talking. “He is very, very special to me,” she said. “I have prayed every single night for him and his family. Alex has made me into a better person.”
There were lots of tears during the couple’s prom night at Menorah, Ragner said. Ragner and the others surprised Fraser with the in-house prom. He found out that night when family members helped get him dressed in a tuxedo and gave him flowers for Todd.
Fraser locked eyes on his date in the visitor’s waiting room surrounded by family, friends and nurses from the unit. The nurses cheered him into the waiting room, Ragner said.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Ragner said. “I cried several times that night.”
An older brother helped Fraser with dinner while Ragner kept an eye on his portable monitor and oxygen tank, checking in with him to see how he was doing.
“That meant everything to be able to get out of my bed for the first time to be wheeled out of my room,” Fraser said. “To know that it was organized by my nurse meant so much. She did so well with my care and everything.”
The celebration for Fraser and Todd was a joyful event in a unit that has a lot of sadness, Ragner said. Organizing a senior prom was not the first time Ragner had done something unusual on behalf of her patients. It was the largest, however, she said.
Ragner frequently gives back rubs and foot massages to her patients. These are little things that just make people feel good, she said. Once, she challenged a patient to get up and stand on the side of the bed, and then rewarded her by doing cartwheels through the hallway.
Ragner followed up with her patient at a rehab facility when she heard she was feeling blue. Ragner answered questions on her patient’s mind. After meeting, the patient set a new goal to leave in two weeks, Ragner said. “I love my job,” she said. “I try to treat all of my patients like I want my family treated. I try to do anything that I would want for my family.”
Mike Fraser, Alex’s father said the community has reached out to Alex and their family in countless ways since Alex’s surfing accident rendered him quadriplegic. Blue Valley high school organized a carnival to benefit Alex. Mike’s friend, a restaurant owner, staged a band fest to raise funds. Others have held garage sale benefits, he said.
The benevolence started with care at Menorah, Mike said. Mike says their insurance company will not cover the costs of several power wheelchairs and a lift that Alex will need. The price tag for equipment is upwards of $250,000, he said.
“We are very fortunate to live in an exceptional community where there are a lot of compassionate people,” he said. “It started the moment we were at Menorah. It’s continued to be a blessing for us to be supported as we adjust to this new challenge in our lives.”
Mike said he cannot speak highly enough about the medical, emotional and personal support Ragner has given his family. Arranging the prom for Alex’s and Emily made all the difference, he said. “It took what could have been a very difficult and sad day for him and for us and made it an absolutely wonderful event for us,” he said.