WALLINGFORD — Brianna Dragunoff sat on the edge of her hospital bed dolled up, with curls in her hair and her makeup done Saturday night. She wore a purple one-shoulder dress and high heels to complete her look.
It was barely noticeable that the Sheehan High School senior was wearing an oxygen tube in her nose that connected to a tank attached to her wheel chair.
Dragunoff was smiling from ear to ear, texting her friends from her smartphone, anxiously awaiting the clock to hit 6 p.m.
“Tony is here,” she told her mom, Cheryl Dragunoff, who sat next to her.
Dragunoff, 17, was getting ready to attend her senior prom with friends and family. The prom was not being held at a country club, but at Gaylord Hospital, right downstairs from Dragunoff’s hospital room.
Because Dragunoff has cystic fibrosis she wasn’t going to be able to attend the Sheehan High School prom at the end of the month. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease of the lungs and digestive system that produces mucus that clogs the lungs, making it difficult to breathe
Two Gaylord nurses who often cared for Dragunoff through her illness, Courtney Fletcher and Margarita Norris, thought they would bring the prom to Dragunoff. The two women put the event together with the help of Gaylord staff in nine days. Many staff members donated money and services to make the prom a reality.
“We got to know (Dragunoff) as a patient and talked about everything and anything,” said Norris. “We didn’t like the fact she was missing her prom.”
“I think it’s amazing they went through all of this effort,” said Cheryl Dragunoff. “It was so much giving and willingness. It floored me. It’s incredible.”
Cystic fibrosis affects about 30,000 Americans and is a life-threatening disease. Many with the disease don’t live past 30, especially without having a transplant of both lungs, said Fletcher.
Before Dragunoff got in her wheelchair to go downstairs to the event, her 13-year-old brother, Jacob Dragunoff, had a few words to say before the party got started.
“I’m the one that’s not letting anyone come near her,” he said.
Dragunoff was wheeled out of her room to be greeted by a group of nurses happy to see her.
“You look gorgeous,” one nurse said.
“Have a great time,” chimed in another.
“Wait ’til you see what it looks like down there,” another nurse said.
As Cheryl Dragunoff pushed her daughter’s wheelchair through the hallways of the hospital, in and out of elevators and through doors, Dragunoff had to make sure to take a few selfies along the way.
She held her phone out with both her hands and smiled for the camera.
Then they finally made it to the to the lobby area. Dragunoff was greeted by her friend Tony Chen, a senior at Sheehan.
“You look amazing,” he told her.
Like Dragunoff, many others were dressed in purple. Decorations in the banquet room at Gaylord had touches of purple everywhere, including table cloths, gift boxes, and more. Purple is the color for cystic fibrosis. This month is cystic fibrosis awareness month.
“(Dragunoff) is just the sweetest thing,” said Fletcher.
Dragunoff smiled from ear to ear as she posed for dozens of pictures with friends and family. She was the center of attention as local television crews were there to capture the event. When she was in the middle of an interview, Dragunoff’s friends Chen, Taylor Viele, a Sheehan sophomore, and Tess DiDomenico, a freshman at Sheehan, made faces from behind the camera to make her laugh.
“It’s so good and she’s so sweet,” said Viele.
“It’s nice she’s having this with family and friends,” DiDomenico said. “She looks really pretty.”
Chen, who has known Dragunoff for the past five years, said he was planning on asking her to the Sheehan prom before he knew she couldn’t go.
“I didn’t tell her that yet,” he said.
The theme of the prom was a masquerade ball with the tagline: “A night in disguise.”
Chen knelt down next to Dragunoff’s wheelchair so she could help him put on his silver sparkling mask.
“Bring your face here Tony,” she said.
After about an hour of picture taking, it was time for Dragunoff to enter the room. The DJ played the song “Milkshake” by Kelis with the lyrics blasting “the boys are waiting.”
Everyone cheered and clapped for Dragunoff as she entered the room.
“I’m really grateful they’re doing everything,” Dragunoff said. “I’m still shocked.”
Dragunoff and her friends sat down and got ready for dinner and to dance the night away.
“Some people said, ‘why are you doing this?’” Norris said. “And I say, ‘why not?’”
Dragunoff and her family will be participating in a walk for cystic fibrosis in West Haven at the end of the month. They are hoping to raise $2,000 for the cause. To donate, visit www.cff.org and click find a team. Brianna Dragunoff’s team name is Brianna & Jacob in Action.