Sabrina Cohen did not go to her high school prom, but on a recent May night 18 years later, there she was with a pink carnation corsage wrapped firmly around her wrist as she greeted other prom-goers and escorted them to have their prom pictures taken.
"I didn't go to my own prom. It was about two years after I was injured. Everyone else was dating, going out and partying, and my life was all about trying to understand my accident, going to therapy, and hoping to get out of my wheelchair," said Cohen, who was paralyzed in a car accident when she as 14 years old.
The prom, which was dubbed the "1985 South Beach Prom," was held on Miami Beach, just blocks from where, coincidentally, the 2012 prom of Miami Beach Senior High (Cohen's alma mater) was underway. At Cohen's event, though, the roughly 100 attendees were mostly in their 30s and 40s, and many had dug their 80s era out of their truck to dance to such DJ-spun hits as "Footloose," "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
The event raised nearly $2,000 for Cohen's non-profit foundation, but, even more important, it also attracted a large group of new supporters, mostly friends of TV host and actress Jodi Darren, to Cohen's cause. Darren, who is a friend of Sabrina's, is the one who came up with the idea of holding a prom.
"Well, I wanted to go to a prom, because it had been a long time since I'd been to one. I chose 1985 because when you see movies from the 1980s, there always seems to be a prom," Darren said.
The idea proved an instant hit, as the prom-goers lined up at the table for cupcakes and punch. (This was an "over 21" event so the punch was legally spiked). There was also a King and Queen of the prom, chosen by raffle, and all the guests had their photos taken by South Beach nightlife photographer Henry Perez, who took their "official" prom photo.
Cohen, who was a winner in Examiner.com's America Inspired competition, and also a 2009 WebMD Magazine Health Hero, has built a satisfying and extraordinarily busy life raising funds for medical research, as well as doing motivational speaking and mentoring the newly paralyzed. But still, she says, "You can put me in a club tomorrow and, when I hear the music, I want to get up and dance." "Sometimes," she adds, "the tears do fall, but nobody sees them, and I can stop it and be thankful for what I do have."
Cohen is currently planning a full slate of upcoming fall fundraising events and, next year, there will be another prom. "I'm not sure if we'll stick to the 80s theme or pick another era. But everyone loved this so much we have to do it again," she said.
And also, she added, "When I had that corsage on my wrist, and my friend took my arm, well, it seemed so real. This is an event for everyone to relive their prom and, well, for everyone who didn't get a chance to go, I can say to them, 'Here is your opportunity.'"