Getting primped for the prom

Maria Gamez, right, looks at her daughter, Amy, 19, while she tries on prom dresses during Renal Support Network's makeover day, which took place at the Glendale Galleria.
(Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)

Lori Hartwell didn’t go to her senior prom.

Throughout her teenage years, the 46-year-old was on dialysis for chronic kidney disease. Diagnosed at 2 years old, she had two failed kidney transplants before she reached 20.

Fourteen years ago, a few years after launching the Renal Support Network, Hartwell decided she didn’t want other teens to miss out on “the rite of passage” that is the prom.

So she started hosting the Renal Teen Prom.

Roughly 400 people — young girls and boys in the network, their dates and volunteers — will attend this year’s “Midnight in Paris” dance Jan. 20 at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. Actor Jack Black is on the guest list.

“I just really understand how difficult it is to be a teen — how lonely I felt,” she said. “I didn’t want other teens to experience that.”

On Saturday, dozens of girls swirled through the Glendale Galleria, where Hartwell and her team had set up a dream closet with racks of hundreds of donated dresses — short, long, beaded, shimmery and sequined — for prom-goers.

It didn’t take very long for 20-year-old Meghna Verma to pick out a dress. With Hartwell’s help, she chose a sleek blue-and-green, high-waist gown with a rhinestone brooch.

From Redlands, Verma and her aunt piled into the car Saturday morning for the 70-mile trek to the Galleria.

Verma was diagnosed with kidney disease last summer, just a month before her 20th birthday.

The journey, she said, has been painful and emotional.

Waiting for a transplant, Verma spends 12 hours a day on peritoneal dialysis. “It feels like you’re getting liposuction — while you’re awake,” she said.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Verma added. “This is an up for me.”

After choosing a gown, Verma had a seat in front of makeup artist David Chandler.

“Do you want smoky eyes?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, smiling.

Chandler plucked a deep-blue-and-green eye shadow palette from his table — which was cluttered with stacks of fake eyelashes, compact powders and makeup brushes — and went to work.

“It’s just an opportunity to get them to feel like they belong,” Hartwell said. “Kidney kinship.”

To donate dresses, shoes or accessories for the Renal Teen Prom, drop them off at the Glendale Galleria customer service center.